William Shakespeare defined Richard III quite explicitly as an ugly, treacherous, duplicitous and generally dubious monarch in his 1485 play, and the image of the man as such has persisted ever since.
But that all changed almost a decade ago when a little-known amateur historian sniffed around and eventually discovered a burial site under a parking lot in Leicester city centre. The Lost King. It’s a modest but very gripping story, similar to many good British films from 25 or 30 years ago, a quality that can no doubt be largely attributed to this reliable all-around Stephen Frears at the helm.
Delightfully written by co-star Steve Coogan and prolific television writer Jeff Pope, this story is somewhat reminiscent of the Preston Sturges comedies Little Man Makes Good People, in which an unlikely nobody suddenly becomes something of a folk hero. In this case, it is a woman who not only defies conventional wisdom but breaks academic norms by behaving more like an intuitive detective than a doctrinaire historian. It’s a wonderful script, tailor-made for Sally Hawkins, who, unsurprisingly, excels as a lover of the few who perseveres until she literally gets to the bottom of things.
Philippa Langley’s position in life was hardly promising; although she and her husband John (the wonderful self-deprecating Coogan) are no longer together, so to speak, they still live in exceptionally cramped quarters under the same Edinburgh roof with a tiny toddler, for which John is largely responsible, as they have no financial opportunities. But mostly, he’s friendly to the home environment, enough to allow the fast-metabolized Philippa to hang out with her girlfriends and more deeply explore the long-buried mysteries surrounding the death and literal cover-up of the long-maligned monarch.
Part of what keeps Lost King in such a captivating clip, energetic but mostly friendly arguments between all parties rumble; almost everyone here, from Philippa’s buddies to various rival scientists, is fighting for life, but nonetheless involved in it, no one more than Philippa. By academic standards, she is an amateur and not worthy of entering the ring with properly educated scientists. Technically, she suffers from chronic fatigue, though you’ll hardly notice it when you watch her, probably because Hawkins is such a lively performer in whatever she does.
However, Philippa puffs forward. We see some Shakespeare Richard III in a local production and are reminded that the bard wrote his mesmerizing work about 100 years after the death of King Richard. Intrigued by the whole story, Philippa digs deeper and shifts to an “innocent until proven guilty” attitude towards her subject. In the modern era, she is able to interact with Richard III’s “family” online, which accelerates her descent into the possession.
And so she ruthlessly rushes forward along the path that leads her to the parking lot, under which, as it is assumed, such a slandered sovereign could be buried. At this critical juncture, she faces stiff opposition from possessive local scientists who automatically think they know best, just as competition from outsiders threatens their monopoly on everything, Richard.
This treatment of our heroine is both frustrating and entirely plausible, but nonetheless fails to stop the momentum, culminating in the most unexpected location of a non-descript car park, under which the infamous royal seemed to be lying peacefully in the form of pedestrians, cars and trucks. . unknowingly crossed the sidewalk just a few feet from his remains. It’s highly unlikely, but a poignant climax nonetheless.
It looks like local scientists elbowed Philippa as best they could, but she has the last laugh that a film was made with her at the center of it all, deservedly or not. This is very good entertainment, not overly sophisticated, but confident and fun in its telling of a completely incredible story. Hawkins wins like never before; she grabs your hand and drags you through her breathtaking ups and downs. It’s a reminder of the eccentric and offbeat British films that used to be an expected commodity but have become a relative rarity, at least in theaters. The truth, or something to be taken with a grain of salt, is something to be enjoyed.
Coogan engraved a fine sketch of a portrait of an amiable slacker who obligingly supports his wife in every possible way while she pursues seemingly futile attempts to prove her conviction that King Richard not only is buried nearby in Leicester, but does not deserve to be slandered. , with which it has been covered over the past centuries.