The Lost King
2023, PG-13, 109 min. Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Sally Hawkins, Steve Coogan, Mark Addy, Benjamin Scanlan, Adam Robb, James Fleet, Harry Lloyd.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 24, 2023
Obsession is what they call it when you're wrong. When you're right, it's called conviction, and that's the story behind The Lost King, the remarkable, charming, and true-ish tale of Philippa Langley (Hawkins), the amateur historian who made one of the most important archeological discoveries of the century.
What's true is the most ridiculous part. Langley, a divorced marketing worker in Edinburgh, Scotland, became obsessed with Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England and infamously defamed throughout history by Tudor propagandist William Shakespeare. She went on a mission to find his lost grave, convinced the city and University of Leicester that he was buried under a parking lot, raised the funds for a dig – and found him, day one. As archeologist Richard Buckley (Addy) tells her, finding a needle in a haystack would be easier. However, that's exactly what happened.
Where the delightful and warmhearted The Lost King (scripted by the Philomena duo of Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope) does deviate from reality is – as is often the way in biopics – in the details. Langley wasn't the first person to suggest the parking lot as Richard's last resting place, even if she did find the best evidence; nor was this a solitary quest, as there were plenty of other people involved in the "Looking for Richard: In Search of a King" project.
But the narrative trimming allows the story to center on a touching theme of what it is to be demeaned and belittled. Diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a middle-aged woman, and with no formal qualifications, it's all too easy for Philippa to be ignored and muttered about behind her back – or even to her face. It's the kinship she shares with Richard III, who has been on the receiving end of slander for over 500 years. That's something she discusses with his ghost (another thing that probably didn't happen), played by Lloyd as her soulful and often-silent sounding board.
As Langley, Hawkins evokes a certain British contrariness, a polite determination to do the right thing, and a quiet indignation when the same is not done for her. The University of Leicester is the villain here, while Richard gets his history publicly and valiantly reassessed – exactly what Langley wanted all along.
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The Lost King, Stephen Frears, Sally Hawkins, Steve Coogan, Mark Addy, Benjamin Scanlan, Adam Robb, James Fleet, Harry Lloyd