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There's No Running From Your Past as The Marsh King's Daughter is Adapted for the Screen

How do you escape a haunted past?

the marsh king's daughter
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  • Photo Credit: Black Bear Pictures

When The Marsh King’s Daughter first came out in 2017, readers were blown away by Karen Dionne’s ability to create a tense psychological thriller without a lot of the external shocking twists and turns the genre usually demands. There’s a murderer, a victim, and a ticking clock counting down to disaster. But this is also a story about the human mind and the conflicting emotions we carry with us. Family is rarely easy, but when lies mar your childhood, what does that say about who you are? Can you ever really leave the demons in your past behind?

Of course, it’s hard to let go of the past when it’s literally hunting you. At least, that’s what Helena believes. And as her past collides with her present, we’re left on the edge of our seats wondering what terrible and hidden truths we will discover along the way.

And now, fans of the book are rejoicing as The Marsh King’s Daughter is being adapted to film. Check out the preview below and then continue on for a deep dive into the story and themes.

What is The Marsh King's Daughter about?

Helena Pelletier grew up in the remote marshlands in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her father taught her the beauty of nature and how to survive in the wild. She knew her father could be brutal, but she never imagined the truth. Not until she was rescued and the father she loved was sent to prison for kidnapping her mother and holding them both hostage. It’s a secret she buried for twenty years. Only now, her father has escaped. And Helena is convinced he’s coming back for the family he never intended to lose.

From what we can see, the film intends to uphold the main elements of the book with some minor changes. In the novel, Helena has two daughters. And while it’s hard to tell in the clips from the trailer, it seems she only has one daughter in the film. Her husband still seems to be in the dark about the truth of her past, but whether he takes their daughter away remains to be seen.

Still, those details are trivial in comparison to the tense cat-and-mouse game the trailer teases. We are going to relive Helena’s childhood, seeing the side of her father she loves and the side she fears. Helena is the only person her father ever trained, and while she should run as far from him as possible, she might be the only person who understands how he thinks enough to catch him.

Far more than a simple psychological thriller, The Marsh King’s Daughter is layered with unexpected twists. In the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, the baby is a mix of her mother’s beauty and her father’s cruel nature. This seems to be hinted at in both the novel and the film. Helena refuses to run away. She insists on staying to face her father. But is it revenge she wants? Closure? Or something else?

It's easy to get tangled in the questions as we see her father through young Helena’s eyes. And we’re even given a hint of that emotional confusion over the twisted meaning of one of Helena’s tattoos. Her father says it means family, others say it means owned. She shouldn’t forget who her father is, but isn’t that the nature of childhood? To see things we don’t understand and try to make sense of them. 

This isn’t just a story about facing the demons of your past. This is about confronting the core of who you are and what role your parents play in that makeup. Helena loved her father and she’s afraid of him. Kidnapping her mother and keeping them in the marshes are the least of his crimes. But how will those conflicting emotions play out as father and daughter circle closer to each other? That’s the linchpin holding this intense story together.

Cover of The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King's Daughter

By Karen Dionne

The Marsh King's Daughter's journey from novel to film

It's been a long journey to see the movie made. The novel first came out in 2017 winning the Barry Award for Best Novel and was nominated for the RUSA CODES Reading List in the Adrenaline category. Shortly after, in 2018, the adaptation was first announced.


Initial casting had Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl) as Helena with Morton Tyldum (Headhunters, The Imitation Game) directing. Filming was scheduled for the summer of 2019, but never started and studio news was quiet. It’s unclear what changed, but in early 2021, a new announcement was made. This time Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Chaos Walking) was set to play Helena with Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Divergent) directing.

Playing opposite Ridley is Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, Outsider) as escaped convict and infamous killer, the Marsh King. Garrett Hedlund (Friday Night Lights, Unbroken) plays Helena’s husband, Stephen, Caren Pistorius (Slow West, Mortal Engines) plays her mother, and young Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project, Cocaine Bear) will bring the young Helena to life.


Fans of the novel can be assured that the atmospheric tension will be immersed throughout the film thanks to Revenant writer Mark L. Smith, along with Elle Smith. The team behind Black Bear Pictures has worked cinematic magic in other works such as All is Lost (2013), The Imitation Game (2014), Barry (2016), Suburbicon (2017), and I Care A Lot (2020), to name a few.

When can you watch The Marsh King’s Daughter?

Earlier reports had an October release, but the Swifties dedication made producers nervous that a release in the middle of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour would potentially interfere with moviegoer excitement. The movie is set to release in the US through Lionsgate on November 3, 2023.