Review: Daisy Ridley Stars as a Convincing Outdoorswoman with Father Issues in The Marsh King’s Daughter

Based on the successful book by Karen Dionne and directed by Neil Burger (Divergent, Limitless, The Illusionist), The Marsh King’s Daughter is a mildly gripping thriller about Helena (Daisy Ridley), who has spent her entire teen years and adult life hiding from her past. She's determined to make certain that her survivalist/hunter father Jacob (Ben Mendelsohn) never finds her again once he is released from prison, where he was sent for kidnapping Helena’s mother (Caren Pistorius) and forcing her to live in the woods with young Helena (Brooklyn Prince). Unaware as a child of what her father had done, she’s very much ashamed by how attached she was to him as he was teaching her to hunt and track. She didn’t believe her mother at first about the kidnapping, but when they finally do escape and go to live with a local sheriff (Gil Birmingham), the truth becomes apparent.

As an adult, Helena marries Stephen (Garrett Hedlund) and they have a daughter, Marigold (Joey Carson), who is about as old as Helena was when she was rescued. Meanwhile, during a transfer to a facility out of state, Jacob manages to escape. He immediately makes his way to their old cabin in the woods, where he must square off with his own daughter, something he doesn’t want to do. And she wants nothing to do with him. Adapted by screenwriters Elle Smith and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant), The Marsh King’s Daughter has an air of authenticity to a great deal of the survivalist storyline. Jacob not only turns Helena into a worthy tracker, but he fills her with knowledge about why an animal might be running away rather than strolling; she can look at a hoof print and know a great deal about their prey (mostly deer); and she’s taught vital lessons about protecting family over all other things.

The film takes its time getting where it’s going, but I still found myself mostly engaged with the father-daughter struggle. Although he’s largely absent for much of the film, Mendelsohn pulls everything together and sells himself as a protector, even when he’s threatening to harm or kill his daughter. There’s nothing especially surprising about the way the film wraps up, but it still packs a mild punch, thanks to Ridley’s cold stare, borne of childhood trauma.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.