Culture Film Reviews

Review: The Lost King

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The directing and screenwriting team of Stephen Frears, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, who were behind the heartbreaking and bitingly funny Philomena, return to tell the story of how one woman from Edinburgh persevered to discover a King. Hawkins plays Philippa Langley, a perpetually exhausted lady who feels ground down by life. She is under-appreciated by her boss who, instead of to her, gives a promotion to someone under 40 with less experience. She has an ex-husband John (played by Steve Coogan) with whom she has a strained relationship, her children only see her as a Mum, and she admits very movingly in one scene that her worth is defined by her illness. Philippa has Myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E.) which means she constantly suffers from chronic fatigue; “This is what I look like after a good night’s sleep,” she mentions to one colleague, who looks aghast at her appearance.

After watching a local production of William Shakespeare’s Richard III, about the notorious King who is said to have been an evil usurper, Philippa feels compelled to tell the true story of the King, whom she believes has been misrepresented by the history books as a tyrant instead of a good man. This leads her to go on a quest to find the body of Richard III and convince indifferent and hostile university boards, academics, archaeologists and even her ex-husband that her research findings suggest the King’s body lies under a car park in Leicester.   

On the one hand, this story builds off the well-worn narrative trope of the underdog succeeding in their quest, despite unfavourable odds and the naysayers. However, this story also tries desperately to be unconventional by blending fantasy with reality, with the former being nowhere near as convincing as the latter. After watching the play, Philippa begins to have visions of Richard III, who appears before her as an apparition in the form of the actor (played by Harry Lloyd) who played the role of the King in the play. He is dressed in the King’s royal regal regalia sporting Dickie’s signature long locks. There are many scenes where Philippa talks to the apparition of Richard III, and whilst I think these scenes intend to show why she is so committed to finding the real Richard, there are already a lot of other scenes featuring Philippa and academics and fan club members where she discusses the reasons behind her commitment. Indeed, many of these exchanges between Philippa and the imaginary Richard feel surplus to requirements. If the intention was to humanise Richard using these scenes to show what the King was ‘really like,’ this would only have worked if Richard had been given more dialogue and perhaps a sense of humour by the screenwriters. These scenes only make Richard seem more of an enigma because the script doesn’t give him any personality.   

A special shout-out must be given to the score by Alexandre Desplat, which is fantastic; a perfect evocation of ‘Ye Olde England’ that livens evocatively during sleuthing scenes where Philippa is navigating the streets of Leicester searching for Richard’s remains. The film also makes excellent use of Edinburgh as a filming location. The architecture of the city is a welcome site to see on screen. It is great to see Edinburgh being presented in a major film as Edinburgh, as a cinema in the recent past has often used Scottish cities to double for American ones.

Image “Richard III, King of England, Uncle of Elizabeth of York, Great Uncle of Henry VIII” by lisby1 is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

By Jack Ferguson