The parcel: Philippa (Sally Hawkins) suffers from chronic fatigue, yet her mind is alive and active. Her ex-husband John (Steve Coogan) still keeps a watchful and loving eye on her. One evening, she takes her children off the television and takes them to see William Shakespeare’s Richard III. She identifies with her disability and the misunderstanding of history. She is interested in what happened to the king, whose body was never found. It quickly becomes an obsession, aided by a vision of Richard (Harry Lloyd). She puts together a puzzle of information to determine where Richard III’s remains might be and give him a proper burial…
The verdict: Although not as earth-shattering as the discovery of the wreckage of the Titanic, headlines made headlines a decade ago when the bones of Richard III were discovered, among other places, in a parking lot of the social services of Leicester. Strange things have been found in strange places, like the first deleted footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey in a salt mine or missing footage from The Wicker Man on a highway. And yet, there is an undeniable fascination with a piece of history living right under our feet, waiting to be unearthed and rediscovered. It’s the premise of The Lost King that tells the true story – its story (as the opening credits state) of one Philippa Langley, a mild-mannered woman and amateur historian who did more than just uncover 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 truly a portrait of a woman’s unwavering determination to listen to her inner voice and follow it. She pushes back against naysayers and professional historians who are entrenched in their views, clinging heavily to the Shakespearean interpretation of this lost king as a usurper. She joins a group of passionate fans and identifies with them, but that is not enough. Having settled on a suspect site for Richard’s bones, she sets out to secure funding and support from the University of Leicester and its soon to be disbanded department of archeology. It is here that she battles not one but two other Richards who attempt to rule her and control the dig site. That reliable old pair of hands, Stephen Frears, rules here. It keeps the story on the bright side of fantasy, but with a sense of history weighing on Philippa’s light shoulders as she leads the Looking For Richard project.
Sally Hawkins is ideally cast here as Philippa, moving beyond a would-be crackpot to become a woman with a firm sense of self-confidence and dogged determination to do good by King Richard III. It’s a fine performance that anchors the film and its plot, with a sweet Coogan in an ironically funny backing. 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 the king being a guiding spirit used briefly and sparingly, aided by Harry Lloyd’s subtle performance – finally getting his crown after his epic failure of the ice bucket challenge in Game Of Thrones. It’s a touch of acceptable poetic license, which plays into the film’s theme of giving the misunderstood, hunchbacked King Richard III a voice and presence to go with his bones. Frears doesn’t try to push the film to be more than it is, leaving it a little underwhelming in places (the frequent bickering with one of the other Richards gets a little tiresome). Still, The Lost King has that air of a pleasant, quirky piece of British heritage cinema for a rainy autumn morning. In this regard, it works well.
Rating: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
In short: whimsical
Directed by Stephen Frears.
With Sally Hawkins, Harry Lloyd, Steve Coogan, Mark Addy, James Fleet.