Hear the name Richard III and your mind likely leaps to Shakespeare’s version: an evil hunchback nephew-murderer whose death was met with great rejoicing. Philippa Langley would like a word about that. This is the true story of how Langley (Sally Hawkins), an amateur historian, sought to rehabilitate the king’s reputation and led a hunt for his lost remains, which she eventually found in a Leicester car park in 2012.
A reunion for the team behind the Oscar-nominated Philomena – director Stephen Frears and writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope – The Lost King has lots of charm but an unsure grasp of its tone and a lack of momentum. Langley is a divorcée who’s overlooked at work, largely due to her boss’s unsympathetic attitude to her ME, and bored at home. One night she takes her son to a production of ‘Richard III’ and is suddenly obsessed by the king’s legacy. When she learns his remains have been lost to history, Langley determines to find them and prove he was not the villain he’s been painted as. Assorted patronising men stand in her way.
The film struggles to get a good handle on Langley’s obsession. The script draws a parallel between Langley’s illness and Richard’s spinal condition and the way disabilities are used to pre-judge people, but it doesn’t entirely convince as a reason to upend her entire life.
Possibly aware of this, Coogan and Pope try to tie the pair together with the cute device of having Richard III (Harry Lloyd) appear to Langley as a sort of imaginary friend. He sits outside her house, joins her on a train journey, lurks on the high street. But presumably so as not to truncate the hunt by simply pointing out his grave, Richard is largely mute in these appearances. He adds little. What might have been a fun eccentricity in a broader comedy is just a weird bolt-on here.
It’s all nice enough, yet it feels very low stakes
Hawkins gives a warm performance and there are some lovely scenes, particularly between Langley and her ex-husband (Coogan), who have a relationship that has moved on from marriage but still has residual love.
It’s all nice enough, yet it feels very low stakes. Richard’s eventual discovery arrives with slow inevitability but no great triumph. At one point the mission’s nearly derailed for the want of £800. That’s the level of drama we’re talking here. Langley has a tough time persuading people to care as much about Richard III as she does, and so does this film.
In US theaters Mar 24. Available on PVOD in the UK now.