The Lost King

After unfairly losing a promotion but urged to keep her job by her ex-husband John (Steve Coogan) because of shared financial burdens, Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins) attends a production of ‘Richard III’ and identifies with the king so strongly, she joins the Richard III Society, quits going to work and begins a search for his remains in “The Lost King.”

Laura's Review: B

The “Philomena” team of director Stephen Frears and writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope return with the modern 2012 equivalent to the wartime set 2021 Netflix film “The Dig,” another true tale about a hugely important British archaeological discovery intuited by a woman which resulted in class and power clashes.  Like that film, this one has a fantastical element, Philippa’s internal thoughts projected as discussions with King Richard (Harry Lloyd, "Anthropoid," TV's 'Legion') himself, an apparition only she can see.

Philippa suffers from ME (also known as chronic fatigue syndrome), so she questions Shakespeare’s assertion that Richard III became villainous because of an affliction (his supposed hunchback) and in voicing that opinion to the father of her son Raife’s (Benjamin Scanlan) classmate after the play, is belittled, something which only makes her more determined to prove her point.  After purchasing all eight books on the king in stock at an Edinburgh book shop, Philippa finds out about the Richard III Society and ventures out one night to their meeting at Albert Pub beneath the Forth Bridge.  The collection of enthusiastic eccentrics embrace her when she states her now-held belief that Richard, who gave us ‘innocent until proven guilty’ among other things, was maligned by historical Tudor victor Henry VII.  Mentioning that she wishes to pay respects at his grave, she learns the whereabouts of his remains are unknown with most accounts stating his corpse was thrown into the River Soar, others believing he was buried in the long gone Greyfriars Chapel.  The Society gives her the name of a historian who will start her on her journey (‘look for an open space’).

While the screenplay is vague on just what happens with its heroine’s job, it uses her research for a lively historical journey which pits a little guy up against big institutions, while her broken family unites behind her.  At first, John is upset when he discovers his ex has been lying to him about a quest he finds questionable, but her fervor and dedication has him giving up his apartment for his old living room couch to help ease the financial pinch it puts them in.  Philippa’s journey illustrates how history favors the victor as she points out to John that an x-ray revealed how the Tudors retouched Richard’s oil portrait to make him look more sinister and how it was illogical that he would have killed two princes, but her engagement of Leicester University’s archaeologist Richard Buckley ("The Full Monty's" Mark Addy) proves both a blessing and a curse, the man admitting the importance of her research yet bowing to the University, which had recently pulled his funding, as it pivoted with a doctorate for him and grabbed media glory from her.

British National Treasure Sally Hawkins channels fierce intellectual curiosity along with empathy for her subject, exhaustion the outward manifestation of her illness.  The real Philippa Langley (the film is adapted from her and Michael Jones’s 2013 book 'The King's Grave: The Search for Richard III') described the moment she found the burial spot in Leicester’s adult social services car park as something almost supernatural, a force rising from beneath the ground, and if Hawkins doesn’t quite convey that, the moment is, nonetheless, magical, the spot actually marked with an ‘R’ beneath her feet.   Coogan issues more warmth than we’ve come to expect from him and Lloyd, who also stars as the play’s affable lead Pete, turns Richard into a guiding North Star.

Frears’ production shot in many of the film’s actual locations (a substitute car park at the Scottish National Mining Museum became its own archaeological dig!) and was apparently blessed with good weather, the film’s look bright despite the mustiness of history.  “The Lost King” portrays humankind as all too eager to accept a scurrilous tale over truth and how one determined amateur crusader shone a light that changed her country’s history.

Robin's Review: B

IFC Films releases "The Lost King" in theaters on 3/24/23.