500 years ago in the Battle of Bosworth, King Richard III of England was slain, bringing an end to the reign of the hunchbacked and unremittingly evil King of England. Five centuries later, his body was found under a car park in Leicester, perhaps befitting of such a man, or perhaps so cruelly undeserving. Regardless of how history looks upon Richard, one thing for certain is that in Stephen Frears' ('Philomena', 'The Queen', 'Dangerous Liaisons') latest film 'The Lost King', both Richard and his exhumator Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins, 'Spencer', 'The Shape of Water') are given the chance of righting the ship.
Philippa is a divorced middle aged woman with two kids, who suffers from chronic fatigue and lives in Edinburgh - what a life. She missed out on a promotion at work and is struggling to find her place in the world. She is well-meaning and caring but can't quite seem to grab a hold of life, until a night at the theatre breathes life into her everyday. Watching Shakespeare's 'Richard III' strikes a chord, and thus begins Philippa's journey that leads to her eventual famous discovery. The unfairly maligned and battled King is not appreciated or seen for who he truly is, and this obvious parallel to Philippa ignites her quest to bring honour to his name.
After meeting up with fellow "Ricardians" at the Richard Society (Edinburgh Branch), Philippa's determination results in her stopping to go to work, much to the concern of her friends and ex-husband John (Steve Coogan, 'Stan & Ollie', 'The Trip'). However, she will not be deterred. Through hallucinations of Richard (Harry Lloyd, 'The Theory of Everything') and her newfound purpose, Philippa will stop at nothing to ensure history is rewritten and those that are unfairly judged are given their fair dues. Two lost souls, helping each other find themselves.
Hawkins plays Philippa with a profound strength, but couples it with a timid vulnerability audiences have become so accustomed to seeing her portray. This is no insult, and I cannot imagine anyone playing Philippa with the same apprehensive resoluteness. In lesser hands, Philippa could so easily have been a plucky and frankly annoying thorn in your side, but Hawkins simply doesn't allow the character to stray that way by bringing the audience on her side.
Frears is no stranger to portraying real-life stories on the screen, and he once again teams with writers Coogan and Jeff Pope. This is the first time they have written together since 'Philomena', which shares strong DNA with 'The Lost King'. Coogan also plays Philippa's ex-husband John, who is so remarkably supportive he almost doesn't seem real - which I am purposefully choosing not to research. He doesn't appear much in the film, but really makes his time count while allowing Philippa the screen time and podium that she deserves.
Battling red tape, bureaucracy, sexism, illness and detractors, the community and family support Philippa receives is truly uplifting, and it forms the heart of the film.
And she needs it. Battling red tape, bureaucracy, sexism, illness and detractors, the community and family support she receives is truly uplifting, and it forms the heart of the film. Without the community spirit of her society and family, 'The Lost King' would probably feel more like a C-grade 'National Treasure'. Frears has somehow made Leicester University to be some kind of evil corporation, and I'm unsure where to split fact from fiction with this one, but this is the closest the film ever really gets to an antagonist. It's not really a problem however, because the real demons Philippa faces are within herself - often shown through the conversations in her head with Richard. If King Richard was anything like how Lloyd portrays him, well, he seems really lovely and charming.
If you had to picture a three-star British film perfect for a Sunday afternoon at the cinema, then this is it. It's delightfully agreeable and pleasant to sit through, with enough comedy to keep you entertained, and enough adventure to keep you interested. The lessons of judging those unfairly and proving oneself are front and centre and rarely subtle, but it matters little. This is a story that had worldwide attention in 2012, but the personal story of Philippa, the main driver of the search, was barely covered. In 'The Lost King', not only does Philippa get to tell her story, but it is a story that many of us can be inspired by.