Bringing “The Marsh King’s Daughter” to the big screen has been a long and winding road, but the book’s author, Michigan writer Karen Dionne, has been pretty cool about it.
From the start, Dionne has been laid back about the movie, which is based on her 2017 thriller set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Thousands of books are optioned that never see the flicker of the big screen, so it was long odds to begin with.
Maybe it’s Dionne’s age. She didn’t get her major book contract until she was middle-aged, after writing two environmental thrillers that didn’t gain much traction.
That wasn’t the case with “The Marsh King’s Daughter,” the publishing rights to which were sold at auction in 2017. Some major publishers ran the price up to $1.3 million. Now, with the movie only a few days from its first showings on Friday (Nov. 3), it’s like Dionne has won the lottery on back-to-back days.
Early on, there was discussion that the movie would be shot in the Upper Peninsula, but the location was changed to an area in Canada that was almost untenable due to its remote wilderness. Filming was completed in 2021 near North Bay, Ontario, and other nearby areas.
I know this is heresy, but moviegoers won’t notice the film was shot in Canada. However, they will be blown away by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, which is the body double for the Upper Peninsula’s Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Canada’s monetary enticements for movie locations helped tip the scales from the UP.
The 108-minute movie follows the book’s plot reasonably closely, but Dionne stresses not to get caught up in the differences and just appreciate it for what it is. The tense plot is sure to keep audiences on the edge of their theater seats.
The book takes readers on a deadly cat-and-mouse hunt as a father and daughter try to be the first to find and kill the other. The daughter, Helena, is the child of a teenage mother who was kidnapped and hidden deep in the woods of the Upper Peninsula. When Helena turns 12, she escapes, and her testimony puts her father in the Marquette Branch Prison.
Afterward, Helena moves on with her life. She’s running a thriving natural food business and is married and raising two children when she learns her father has escaped and is coming for her to exact his revenge. Helena is forced to become a huntress, using the outdoor survival skills she learned from her father. She may be the only one with the skills to find him.
What makes the book stand out is the authenticity Dionne offers in writing about the northern woods of Michigan. The author and her husband were part of the countercultural back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. In early 1974, the couple bought 10 acres in the Upper Peninsula just off M-28 near Seney. The idea was to live off the land and sell her husband’s pottery. They ended up living in the Upper Peninsula for more than 30 years before moving back to the Lower Peninsula.
The movie definitely has the star power to succeed when it opens. It stars “Star Wars” actress Daisy Ridley and Marvel actor Ben Mendelsohn. It was adapted for the screen by Mark L. Smith of “The Revenant” fame and directed by Neil Burger, who also directed the “Divergent” film series, another book adaptation.
Dionne was disappointed that she was unable to watch any of the filming, the vast majority of which was completed during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing the Canadian border to be closed.
She’s since been able to watch the movie on the small screen about nine times.
“There’s nothing like it. It’s amazing,” she said. “I was like a little ball of jelly, and seeing my name on the big screen will be like … wow.”
To celebrate the movie’s release, which coincides with the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, Dionne said she and her husband are flying to New York City to watch the movie just off Times Square at the AMC Empire 25 theater.
If the movie is a success, Dionne’s literary lottery luck may hit again when the book is reissued with a cover tying it to the film. The book was originally published in more than 27 countries and was a bestseller in Sweden, so its legs could take it a long way.
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