From the director of ‘Limitless’ and ‘Divergent’ comes ‘The Marsh King’s Daughter,’ an intriguing thriller movie set in the deep forests of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. Helena (Daisy Ridley) grew up in the wilderness, but not as the child of a hippie family, instead born of an abducted mother. Her father, the “Marsh King,” was an expert survivalist who taught her to thrive in the wilderness. Eventually, she learns about the outside world and escapes.
Helena’s father is arrested, and she is able to start a new life in civilization and even create a family of her own. Her idyllic life is brought to a screeching halt when she learns about her father’s escape from prison. He is going to come for her and her daughters and she is the only one who can face him in the marshy wilderness. Given the setting and captivating plot, one wonders, has this ever happened? Is this movie based on a true story?
The Marsh King’s Daughter’s Origin Story
‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ is based on a 2017 book of the same name written by Karen Dionne. The author was inspired to write it based on her own experience of living in the wilderness for 30 years and news stories of women who had to give birth as captives. Dionne had moved to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan in the 1970s, with her husband and infant daughter. They were a part of the back-to-the-land hippie movement. They built a stone and wood cabin, brought water from the nearby stream, and foraged for wild foods such as roots and berries. Soon, she began discovering the rhythm of the seasons, could recognize each species of plant, and even the calls of animals and birds.
She says ‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ was not directly inspired by any real event, but instead stemmed from her fascination with stories of people who make something of themselves despite having a less than fortunate childhood. For her book, she researched news stories of women giving birth in captivity but chose a different relationship between the father and daughter. In real-life instances of such events, the child becomes an anchor for the mother, and both share a close bond. Instead, for her book, Dionne chose the opposite.
Helena is closer to her father, who teaches her everything she knows. She doesn’t understand her mother’s anger towards him. The only access she has to the outside world is through a few old issues of National Geographic and other magazines. Even after learning a bit about the outside world and finding out her mother was kidnapped, she can see nothing wrong with that. How else was her father supposed to find a wife? It is only after 14 years in the wilderness that Helena realizes the reality of her situation and makes her escape.
Over the years, she is able to assimilate into society, finds a husband, and has two daughters of her own. When she hears the news of her father’s escape, she knows what he is capable of. There is no way the police will find him if he enters the deep forest, and she will never know peace, having to look over her shoulder for the rest of her life. She makes up her mind and decides to hunt him down herself. She knows all his tricks, how he thinks, and what he is after. Using herself and her daughters as bait, she will set a trap and end it once and for all, because she’s the only one who can.
Director Neil Burger has had notable success in making film adaptations of novels, with ‘Limitless’, ‘Divergent’ and ‘All the Old Knives.’ Much like his other titles, ‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ is not based on a true story but is a grounded and rich portrayal, given that the book is written by an author who has spent three decades in the setting and has been inspired by real events.
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