Review: 'The Lost King' - Searching for Richard

Kurt Loder on

William Shakespeare, the noted playwright and lying knave, gets a bit of comeuppance in "The Lost King," a movie that seeks to rescue Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet monarchs, from 400 years of bad-mouthing in one of Shakespeare's most famous plays. According to the Bard's "Richard III," which was written around 1593, the titular king was a bitter, hunchbacked usurper, unjustly enthroned, and a murderer as well, having put to death his two nephews (and potential rivals), the princes Edward and Richard, ages 12 and 9, in the Tower of London.

Richard has had his defenders over the years, preeminent among them an Englishwoman named Philippa Langley, who in the early 2000s allied herself with a group of fellow "Ricardians" in a campaign to locate Richard's remains for formal reburial. (After he was felled in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, his naked corpse was humiliatingly paraded about on the back of a horse before being vaguely disposed of.) Langley and company also sought to have Richard officially acknowledged as a legitimate king of England, despite the brevity and possible dubiousness of his two-year reign.

In "The Lost King," Langley is wonderfully well-played by Sally Hawkins, who clearly conveys her character's interestingly mixed motivations. We see that Langley, who suffers from myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome), resents the fact that this affliction has so strongly affected the way she has been viewed by others, especially employers. "When people find out this one thing about you," she says, "that's all they can see. But there's more to me than that." So, no wonder Philippa identifies with Richard, who was mocked for his hunchback (or possibly scoliosis), despite what might actually have been a sentimental nature (according to one contemporary account) and the much-needed strong leadership he provided for his country.

The picture is moving in its affection for human eccentricity. Like collectors of antiquarian books and vintage vinyl records, the members of the Richard III Society whom Langley joins at one of their weekly pub meetings are motivated by pure, unquestioning devotion. Richard, they believe, is a man who got a raw deal from history - or at least from Shakespeare -- and they're determined to right that wrong. "We stand united against lies and falsehoods," says one Ricardian, "whether they be peddled on Tudor printing presses or on Twitter."

While we follow Langley's campaign to restore Richard's reputation -- and her ever-closer approach to a certain municipal parking lot -- director Stephen Frears also examines the offbeat and loving relationship between Philippa and her ex-husband John (Steve Coogan, who wrote the movie's script with his longtime collaborator Jeff Pope). John halfheartedly has a girlfriend in the outside world, but Philippa is still the guiding light of his life, and their affectionate interaction is the glowing heart of the movie. (This is made all the sweeter by occasional bleats of animosity from jealous academics as they watch Philippa scoring a professional coup they feel should have been theirs -- although it must be noted that the actual pros depicted here deny ever disrespecting Langley, a determined amateur.)


It should be a major strike against this film that it includes Richard himself in several scenes. But this works because the long-gone king is gamely played by Harry Lloyd ("Game of Thrones"), who delivers his lines with wry amusement. Clued in by Langley about the semi-monstrous way he's been depicted by Shakespeare, for instance, Richard replies with a patience probably born of several centuries of being dead.

"A bit harsh," he says.


Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

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