British woman’s adventurous quest to discover royal truth
Fact, fiction and feeling collide in Stephen Frears’ “The Lost King,” written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, an adaptation of the book “The Lost King: The Search for Richard III.” This lively mystery based on a true story comes from the team behind the Oscar-nominated “Philomena,” and it takes much the same approach, centering the story of a British woman embarking on a nigh-impossible search for a man, assisted in some way by a kind, yet put-upon Coogan.
While Judi Dench’s Philomena sought her long lost son, Sally Hawkins’ Philippa seeks a long lost king, Richard III, trapped in the amber of our collective imaginations as the titular evil antihero of Shakespeare’s play. Philippa, a middleaged woman in Edinburgh with two boys, a faltering marriage to John (Coogan), a dead-end sales job and a diagnosis of ME/ CFS (aka chronic fatigue syndrome), becomes inspired by the story of Richard III at a production of the play she has to attend for her son’s school.
Struggling to be taken seriously at home and work despite her physical condition, she relates to Richard’s struggle with his own disability
(his “hunchback”), and objects to his villainous depiction. Philippa sets out to discover the truth about Richard’s life and story, embarking on a research journey that lands her in a car park in Leicester, England, rewriting history with her own intuition.
It’s an inspiring story of personal determination, as Philippa meets obstacles at every step, from a lack of funding, to folks who don’t believe her or object to her reliance on gut feeling. Frears animates her journey with crisp, beautiful cinematography by Zac Nicholson, who frequently captures Philippa in aerial shots as she crosses the ancient squares of Edinburgh and Leicester, foreshadowing the maps of her future archaeological dig.
Frears anthropomorphizes Philippa’s otherworldly intuition by granting her a literal spirit guide of Richard III, in the form of a taciturn “apparition,” played by the actor (Harry Lloyd) who initially sparked her interest on stage. He pops up from time to time, his presence encouraging Philippa to keep going, that she’s on the right path in her quest to lay the king to rest.
Toward the end, “The
Lost King” reveals its British obsession with royalty that doesn’t always translate abroad. But the more important story being told is the one about discrimination and misinformation; that fact can be twisted into fiction that’s perpetrated for centuries. Philippa’s mission to ensure Richard III’s coat of arms on his tomb might seem superfluous, but for her, it’s about restoring the truth, not the title.
Believing that Richard’s scoliosis allowed his rivals to render him monstrous, Philippa’s mission as a Ricardian is to emphasize his humanity among the politically motivated fake news that became Shakespearean fiction and was cemented as common knowledge. Another Ricardian in her Richard III Society chapter emphasizes that they dispute misinformation from the Tudors to Twitter, making reference to our current landscape. It’s a film that calls into question our biases and encourages one to get out and find the truth — it could be an adventure after all.
MPA rating: PG-13 (for some strong language and brief suggestive references) Running time: 1:48
How to watch: In theaters March 24