It’s fun when the story behind a film is as fascinating as the film itself. In the case of “The Lost King” (Stephen Frears, 2022), actor/writer Steve Coogan was intrigued by a newspaper headline that read: “Mother of Two from Edinburgh Finds Lost King in Car Park”.
The film, written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, is based on the book, The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones. Philippa Langley spent 10 years (see video here), from inspiration through research to fund-raising and then discovery, to become a real-life King Finder. The Pathe UK movie is a fanciful retelling of her journey, much condensed. Starring the talented Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”) as Langley, there’s a fun added element of the apparition of King Richard III.
I’m fortunate to live near Bryn Mawr, PA. The Bryn Mawr Film Institute features interesting educational opportunities and sneak peaks of films. One such event, Talk Cinema, is hosted by film critic, Harlan Jacobson. In his presentation of the film, “The Lost King” he mentioned that initially, Langley wasn’t thrilled with the apparition in the movie. She worried it might make her seem more” off her rocker”…which wasn’t needed since she was already pursuing a path many would consider outlandish. She became obsessed with finding the burial spot of King Richard and working with others to see him rightfully buried at Buckingham Palace and his place in history rehabilitated.
For most people, the story of Richard the Third is based on remembrance of Shakespeare’s play, “Richard III”. Wherein, the King is portrayed as a hunchback. “Sent before my time into this breathing world scarce half made up and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark as I halt by them”. Act 1, Scene 1 500 years later, there’s still the perception that a twisted spine equals a twisted and evil man.
The film opens with Hawkins attending a performance of the play with her son. She then defends the character in a discussion with others in the lobby at intermission. Sally Hawkins is not physically alike her counterpart, Philippa Langley. She does a great job of capturing her obsession and her fragile nature. She’s mousy but tenacious. Suffering from myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), an autoimmune disease also known as chronic fatigue, she’s shown walking out of her job when she’s overlooked for a promotion. She seems to have lost her way but her obsession with Richard III energizes her.
Her husband, played beautifully by Steve Coogan, divorced her, but he continues to be supportive. Without his help with her two children, Langley would’ve had an even greater struggle pursuing her research and exploration. It’s not every ex-husband that will agree to move back into the family home to care for the children. It’s nice to see a working woman portrayed so realistically. She’s flawed and can be demanding and prickly, but she’s also a feminist hero.
The film celebrates female intuition. There’s a scene where Hawkins walks across a car park in Leicester and feels a premonition that she’s found the gravesite. That really happened and Langley knew she was on the right track because she’d gathered so many details collected from disparate sources to put the location on the map. Langley was thinking outside the box. She’s not a historian nor an archeologist, and it may have taken an outsider to put the pieces together.
“The Lost King” helps right a wrong. University of Leicester claimed credit for the discovery of Richard the Third’s skeleton and froze Langley out of any recognition. The film ends with Langley not attending a celebratory banquet, but instead, going to a classroom to inspire children to follow their dreams. The movie restores her credit for the discovery. And as she works to restore King Richard’s place in history, the work is restoring Langley to herself. She’s found a mission and a purpose. She’s now doing research to try to locate the two nephews of Richard III to continue her work to recalibrate the misperception that he was an evil king.
If streaming this film (once it leaves theaters), I’d recommend having the subtitles on. Though the Edinburgh accents are fairly easy to understand, if the volume is low, you’ll miss some dialogue. There’s some beautifully cinematography of Edinburgh and Leicester and the English countryside.
Drinks with Films rating: 3 glasses of wine (out of 5)