THE LOST KING – Review by Liz Braun

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A woman is responsible for the remarkable 2012 discovery of King Richard III’s remains in a Leicester car park.

Historian Philippa Langley spent years trying to find the missing monarch— a fanciful pursuit, some might say — but her sleuthing and her scholarship paid off.

It’s a terrific story that’s already been examined in a documentary (Richard III: The King In The Carpark) and now in a new Stephen Frears’ feature called The Lost King.

As with Philomena, Frears works here with Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope as writers, with an assist from Philippa Langley.

Sally Hawkins, extraordinary as always, stars as the tenacious Langley.

The Lost King is a tale of obsession and pursuit. It’s about one woman’s relentless quest to find the remains of a monarch dead and missing for 500 years, but there’s no whiff of dusty archives about it.

It’s more a character study of Langley and a bit of a David and Goliath tale, in that Langley organized research and got all the funding for the archeological dig, and then the University of Leicester tried to steal her thunder on the world stage.

She held her own.

In The Lost King, Langley is depicted as a gentle, vaguely distracted woman with a quiet devotion to truth and history.

Langley joins the Edinburgh branch of the Richard III Society, a world-wide organization keen on a reappraisal of the king’s life and legacy.

Richard III got a bad rap (Shakespeare didn’t help) that has long been disputed; the movie includes much talk about how lies eventually begin to look like the truth, so it’s not as if The Lost King is removed from current political discourse.

(Bubbling under conversations about the king is a wealth of observation about ableism, character, perception and so forth. You won’t feel hit-over-the-head.)

In one of the movie’s few bits of whimsy, Langley starts having visions of a young and vital Richard III (Harry Lloyd) who appears to her on occasion.

These semi-hallucinations are an endearing, if clumsy, embellishment that underline Langley’s determination to get to the truth but also nod at her intuition. In the film (as in real life) she knows instinctively where Richard’s remains will be found.

Langley undertakes research based on her reading about Richard III. Then she approaches academics at the University of Leicester for their support, gets the city of Leicester onside, finds sponsors, gets funding and essentially puts the whole thing together.

When the search for Richard’s remains proves successful, she then has to fend off those who would take credit for her hard work.

It is fully engaging and oddly endearing, and mostly because of Hawkins’ understated performance.

She will absolutely have you rooting for Philippa Langley.

The cast includes Mark Addy and co-writer Steve Coogan (as Langley’s affectionate ex-husband.)

The Lost King is far from perfect but it is witty, vaguely edifying, and very British.

The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last September.

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Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.