Pitch of the Week: ‘King Ralph’ Meets ‘The Princess Bride’ Meets ‘Searching for Sugar Man’

By  · Published on December 9th, 2012

Pitch of the Week is a regular feature in which we pitch a movie to Hollywood. These are not original ideas but rather desires for adaptations, remakes, sequels, biopics, films based on true stories and other works involving pre-existing or real-life source material. It’s a chance to highlight things besides movies, albeit in a way that we’re able to tie it to potential movies.

The inspiration for this inaugural pitch comes from part of an article titled “Everyday Royals” in the latest issue of Mental_Floss magazine (Dec. 2012), which revisits an interesting news story from five years ago about an alleged heir to the throne of France. The interesting thing about this descendent, whose name is Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon, is that he’s Indian and can hardly speak the language of the people he’s in line to rule over. A lawyer from Bhopal, he was discovered by Prince Michael of Greece, who wrote a historical novel that traces a lineage from Henry VI to the unlikely but potentially rightful monarch. From the magazine:

In doing some family research, Prince Michael, who also hails from the Bourbon clan, discovered that a swashbuckling nephew of Henry VI named Jean de Bourbon had worked his way to India. Jean had fled France after killing a nobleman in a duel. But on his journey, he was kidnapped by pirates, sold as a slave, and served in an Ethiopian army before eventually making his way to Goa, India. From there, he met Mughal king Akbar and served in his royal court. Over generations, Jean de Bourbon’s descendents assimilated into the culture – marrying Indians and abandoning their mother tongue for local dialects.

Jean de Bourbon’s story sounds enough like an exciting, film-friendly adventure reminiscent of The Princess Bride, Max Ophuls’s The Exile and, sure, the Pirates of the Caribbean series. But the contemporary tale of a middle-aged man learning that he’s the true king of a major country far, far away is very ripe for the movies, as well, even if such a premise was previously depicted in the 1991 comedy King Ralph. That was England, though, and the Royal family was wiped out by a photography accident; this is France, where the Royal family was wiped out by guillotine during the Revolution.

Anyway, given the fact that the French people have not yet welcomed back the idea of having a king, Balthazar hasn’t had the chance at fish-out-of-water, culture-clash shenanigans like John Goodman’s character does in that little-remembered movie. The focus here, then, would be in the research and discovery and barely life-changing awareness for the heir and his family. He’d at the very least make a fascinating documentary subject, calling to mind the current Oscar-contending hit film Searching for Sugar Man, which similarly involves a man finding out he’s a sort of icon in another part of the world.

What might make it even more intriguing as a nonfiction work is the dispute of the claim, backed by the issue of Jean de Bourbon’s existence being unproven and likely a falsehood. Real or not, however, the “swashbuckler” needs to be dramatized as well. Perhaps someone with a strong knack for mixing documentary and fiction could produce an epic hybrid movie. Sell it as King Ralph meets The Princess Bride meets Searching for Sugar Man meets Slumdog Millionaire – that last title probably seems a stretch to include, but what other crossover India-set story dealing in social mobility would work as a frame of reference for studio execs?

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.