The Plot: Philippa (Sally Hawkins) suffers from chronic tiredness, but yet her spirit is alive and active. Her ex-husband John (Steve Coogan) still keeps a loving, watchful eye on her. One night, she detaches her children from the television and takes them to see Richard III by William Shakespeare. She identifies with his disability and being misunderstood by history. She takes a curiosity in just what happened to the king, whose body was never found. This soon becomes an obsession, helped along by a vision of Richard (Harry Lloyd). She pieces together a jigsaw of information to determine where the remains of Richard III might just lie and give him a proper burial…
The Verdict: While it wasn’t as earth-shattering as the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic, headlines were made a decade ago when the bones of Richard III were discovered in, of all places, a Leicester social welfare services car park. Stranger things have been found in strange places, like the deleted premiere footage for 2001: A Space Odyssey in a salt mine or missing footage from The Wicker Man in a motorway. And yet there’s an undeniable fascination about a living piece of history just sitting beneath our feet waiting to be unearthed and rediscovered. That’s the premise of The Lost King which recounts the true story – her story (as the opening credits declare) of one Philippa Langley, a mild-mannered woman and amateur historian who did more than just discover the final resting place of Richard III. She also restored his reputation as King Richard III.
Adapted by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope from the book by Langley and Michael Jones, The Lost King is very much a portrait of one woman’s steely determination to listen to her inner voice and follow through on it. She bats away naysayers and professional historians who are well settled in their views, cleaving very much to the Shakespearean interpretation of this lost king being a usurper. She joins a passionate group of fans and identifies with them, but that’s not enough. Having settled on a suspected site for Richard’s bones, she sets about getting funding and support from Leicester University and its soon to be disbanded Archaeology department. It’s here that she battles not one but two other Richards who try to reign her in and control the dig site. That reliable old pair of hands Stephen Frears is on directing duties here. He keeps the story on just the right side of whimsical, but with a weighty sense of history resting on Philippa’s slight shoulders as she spearheads the Looking For Richard Project.
Sally Hawkins is ideally cast here as Philippa, moving beyond a potential crackpot to a woman with a firm sense of self-belief and dogged determination to do right by King Richard III. It’s a lovely performance which anchors the film and its plot, with a gentle Coogan in wryly amusing support. Then of course there’s the theatrical device of having King Richard III appear to Philippa at key moments. Much like Banquo’s Ghost in Macbeth, it’s open to interpretation and may / may not work for audiences. Frears leans more towards having the king as a guiding spirit used briefly and sparingly, aided by Harry Lloyd’s subtle performance – finally getting his crown after his epic ice bucket challenge failure in Game Of Thrones. It’s an acceptable poetic licence touch, which plays into the film’s theme of giving the hump-backed, misunderstood King Richard III a voice and a presence to go with his bones. Frears doesn’t try to push the film to be more than it is though, leaving it a bit underwhelming in spots (the frequent bickering with one of the other Richards gets a bit tiresome). Still, The Lost King has that air of a pleasant, quirky piece of British heritage cinema for a rainy autumn matinee. In that regard, it works well.
Rating: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
The Lost King
The Lost King (UK / 12A / 108 mins)
In short: Whimsical
Directed by Stephen Frears.
Starring Sally Hawkins, Harry Lloyd, Steve Coogan, Mark Addy, James Fleet.