The exhumation of the remains of Richard III, from beneath a car park in Leicester, was one of the biggest news stories of 2012. Attracting worldwide attention, the fascinating tale was quickly covered in a handful of documentaries and books – but it took a whole decade for a big-screen adaptation. Directed by Stephen Frears and written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, The Lost King has been found.
The film focuses on the journey of Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins), the woman who initiated the search for the titular long-lost leader. Beginning with a disclaimer that states “This is a true story. Her story.”, The Lost King certainly wears its liberties on its sleeve. The film is more a love letter to the outsiders, like Langley, than it is a fact-based drama. Attempts are made throughout to try and inject a little bit of tension – funding setbacks and permission withdrawals plague the “Looking for Richard” project at the heart of the narrative – but we all know how it ends. There’s really no need to try and create any particular drama here.
Sally Hawkins is, as ever, the highlight – she goes full Sally Hawkins, and that can never be a bad thing. It’s certainly a sweet touch (albeit underused and unexplored) having Langley converse with an apparition of Richard III (Harry Lloyd) who guides her on her journey, too, which the sweet Hawkins totally sells despite the script’s shortcoming. But on the whole, The Lost King is an overly sentimental and fluffy romp that struggles to do anything particularly special. The film looks and feels like a glorified TV movie, and our feeling when Richard’s remains are finally discovered isn’t jubilant as much as it’s relief – there’s only so long we can remain interested over the film’s 108mins when we know its’ entire conclusion before we begin. Therein lies the film’s greatest flaw – there are absolutely no stakes.
There just doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the film. The discovery in the film’s climax is hardly even presented as triumphant. What are we supposed to take away from it? Believe in yourself? Support the outsiders? Love your monarchs? Parallels are struck in the film – briefly – about Philippa Langley’s struggle with ME and Richard’s spinal condition, and how we shouldn’t judge or underestimate those with disabilities. But it feels like an afterthought to be the film’s message.
A solid performance from Sally Hawkins isn’t enough to save The Lost King. It’s gentle and cosy viewing, but not remotely interesting or memorable in its delivery.
THE LOST KING IS AVAILABLE NOW ON DIGITAL AND DVD