Year:  2022

Director:  Stephen Frears

Rated:  M

Release:  December 26, 2022

Distributor: Transmission

Running time: 108 minutes

Worth: $12.50
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Sally Hawkins, Harry Lloyd, Steve Coogan, James Fleet, Mark Addy, Lee Ingleby

... Hawkins does a great job of making Philippa feel real and she manages to inject a whole lot of fight into the character ...

One day, the world will wake up to the fact that Sally Hawkins is one of the finest actors around and she’ll eventually reach Olivia Colman levels of success by finally snaring that Academy Award that she has been nominated for twice. Unfortunately for Hawkins, her two filmic showcases for 2022 have not lived up to the reliable charm and talent that she brings to the screen.

First, she was the supportive wife to Mark Rylance’s Maurice Flitcroft in the flavourless biopic The Phantom of the Open, and now she takes the lead as amateur historian Philippa Langley in Stephen Frears’ “inspired by a true story” movie The Lost King, which chronicles Langley’s part in discovering the whereabouts of the remains of 15th Century King Richard III. Sadly, Frears’ film is tonally inconsistent, taking a potentially interesting story and managing to tell it in the flattest manner possible.

Penned by Frears’ collaborators on Philomena, Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan (who takes the role of Philippa’s supportive ex-husband, John), The Lost King’s story of a single mother who helped re-write monarchic history is an interesting premise, but the execution of the film can’t quite convince the audience why they should really care.

Philippa Langley is unhappy with her monotonous job in tele sales. When she is passed over for promotion by her leering boss for an inexperienced pretty young thing, Philippa demands that he rectify the situation. He tells her that she is “at the suitable level” considering her chronic fatigue condition (despite the fact that Philippa hasn’t missed work or targets). Exasperated, she goes home to her two sons and is lectured by her ex-husband, who is co-parenting the kids and reminds her that she can’t quit her job because they have two houses to support.

That very evening, she attends an Edinburgh production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Entranced by the play, she feels a connection to Richard, a connection that is mocked by a fellow audience member who tells her that Shakespeare was writing from “recent history” and Richard’s villainy (which is symbolised by his hunched back) is history – especially if one considers that he ordered the death of his two nephews in the tower.

Shakespeare wasn’t actually writing from recent history; the Elizabethan playwright was writing from a Tudor perspective about events that occurred over one hundred years prior in the War of the Roses. Philippa becomes motivated to set the record straight about Richard and joins the local Richard III society (known as Ricardians), a group of folks who are fanatical about righting the lies that they view were influenced by Tudor revisionism, restoring the York/Plantagenet monarch to the stature of rightful King rather than traitorous usurper.

Connecting with Richard’s history gives Philippa a sense of purpose that she’s been lacking. It also gives her a version of Richard himself (Harry Lloyd) who seems to follow her around. Soon, Philippa is bunking off work and travelling from Edinburgh to Leicester to find out more about him. She attends a lecture by academic RR Lawrence (Julian Firth) where she challenges some of the assumptions that he makes about Richard. He diminishes her concerns when he finds out that she isn’t an academic and just a member of “the fan club.” After the lecture, she meets the historian and author John Ashdown-Hill (James Fleet) and tells him that she has a “feeling” that she can find the remains of Richard.

Although Langley put in a lot of research time into Richard, it is true that she was guided by a hunch as to where he ended up (here, the hunch is partially guided by ghost Richard). She walks the streets of modern Leicester and in a car park has the uncanny feeling that she has found the remains of Greyfriars Church, the final resting place of Richard, despite rumours that his body had been thrown into the River Soar.

Taking her research and feelings to prominent University of Leicester archaeologist Richard Buckley (Mark Addy), Langley is looking for funding to dig up the area. Initially rebuffed because the University can’t fund the search for a body, her cause is eventually taken on by Buckley and the somewhat sneering Richard Taylor (Lee Ingleby), under the guise of searching for Greyfriars.

At almost every stage, Langley has to justify her research and interest – academics aren’t interested in a novice, but as her research increasingly pans out to be accurate, she then has to prove that she was instrumental in the search. With only fellow Ricardians and her ex-husband supporting her quest, she finds herself at the mercy of the establishment.

It has been argued that the University of Leicester was actually supportive of her quest, and that characters like Taylor and Buckley have been given short shrift for narrative convenience in the film, which is somewhat Shakespearean in itself.

Frears is trying to make the point that Langley is an underdog, who has suffered minimisation in her life on a personal level, which included how she managed her chronic condition and the micro-aggressions that she suffered for being a bit of an odd-bod woman.

Hawkins does a great job of making Philippa feel real and she manages to inject a whole lot of fight into the character, but the script and the film don’t convey whether she really should be taken seriously.

The scenes with Harry Lloyd as Richard III had the potential to be a place where we get to know both the woman and the monarch, but Lloyd’s character rarely speaks, meaning that Philippa seems to be babbling her own obsessions at the (overly handsome) man.

Langley’s multi-year quest is boiled down into what seems like a year or so for the film, and the input of other Richard III researchers isn’t given sufficient significance. Aside from the film’s historical inaccuracies (ironic in a film about historical inaccuracies), it doesn’t manage to breathe any life into the story. The Lost King wastes Hawkins’ talents and also the audience’s time by trying too hard to be a broad comedy and broad social commentary; eventually being neither.