The Lost King – Film Review
Director – Stephen Frears
Writers – Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Stars – Harry Lloyd, Sally Hawkins, Lee Ingleby
The character of Richard III is primarily defined by the portrayal by Shakespeare and it is not complimentary. Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins) went with her teenage son to a production of the play and as a result, unusually, felt sorry for Richard III and wanted to find out more about him including wanting to visit his grave. But its whereabouts have remained a mystery for over 500 years.
Philippa is in a run-of-the-mill job, where sexism is par for the course and married to John (Steve Coogan) who is not faithful. She becomes obsessed with the fate of Richard III in general and the whereabouts of his grave in particular. She carries out a vast amount of research including questioning various scholars and comes to the conclusion that the body lies in a backstreet municipal car park in Leicester. To carry out an excavation of the site and exhume the body entails a mountain of bureaucracy and is expensive. She has no money. Philippa is met with more sexism and a great deal of male condescension at every turn as she pursues her goal.
Coogan and Jeff Pope wrote the script. In 2013 they combined with Frears to tell the story of Philomena. In this unlikely story, they detail the daily life of Philippa in its humdrum grind which is leavened by the uplifting obsession of trying to find the grave of Richard III. The obsession lies in the realm of fantasy. This fantastical element is portrayed by the device of having the actor Harry Lloyd, who played Richard III in the play, appear often as an apparition to Philippa. His creation is her guiding spirit and gives her the determination to continue despite the multitude of obstacles. As a cinematic device to help tell the story, it works.
The central figure in the story is Philippa and Sally Hawkins inevitably dominates the film. At all times she is magnificent, particularly in the comedy and fractured love that she and Coogan are able to portray in the Longley marriage. But she is equally impressive with the male condescension to which she is regularly subjected both in her job when she is doing her research and finally when she wants to dig for the body in Leicester.
The Lost King is a “David and Goliath” story but the David in the story is Philippa. The story is a far-fetched one but it is true. Frears and his cast led by Hawkins have managed to combine these elements into a film which creates an exciting, even if hard-to-believe adventure. The incredible becomes credible through the persistence of Philippa. For that alone, the film is worth seeing but in addition, Hawkins is a delight.