I long ago accepted that Sally Hawkins makes everything better. This is most certainly the case with The Lost King, a reuniting of the team behind 2013's BAFTA-winning Philomena and a film that benefts greatly from Hawkins' innate ability to wring every ounce of nuance, drama, and humor from even the simplest dialogue. Hawkins is a master and The Lost King is all the better for it.
Like Philomena, The Lost King is about a search. In this case, the searcher is Philippa Langley, a middle-aged historian and divorced mother of two who becomes obsessed 15th-century Plantagenet king Richard III and determines to right his reputation and find his long lost remains. The film's script, co-written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, is based off the surprisingly true story 2012 news story of "the king in the car park." If you remember the story, you're likely already chuckling.
After taking her two sons to a stage version of the Shakespeare play early in the goings on here, the story of Richard seemingly strikes a bit of a chord with her as both she and dear Richard are seemingly unfairly maligned. Philippa, a stellar employee, has been passed over for a promotion because of her ongoing challenges with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome while Richard's reputation has long been one of a hunchbacked usurper (which actually sounds a lot more like me). The more she thinks about it, the more she becomes convinced that Richard's reputation is not fairly represented and she begins to pour herself into research to prove this to be true. She learns that much of what we've been taught to believe about him is Tudor propaganda and that he was actually quite the reformer who established the idea of "innocent until proven guilty." She also learns that after his death in 1485 that his remains were lost to history.
She sets out to find them.
The script by Coogan and Pope is one of gentle humor and lightly emotional resonance. The Lost King lacks the emotional intensity of Philomena and also that film's level of humor. The Lost King is a quieter film but never so quiet that one loses interest. Philippa's search includes the obligatory eccentrics, in this case an Edinburgh Richard III society, along with the also obligatory baddies here represented by a couple of Universty of Leicester administrators who attempt to take credit for her work. As a side note, the University of Leicester refutes that this was the case.
Much like Hawkins' finely tuned and nuanced performance, the original score by Alexandre Desplat manages to playfully accentuate the film's humor yet also build upon the film's emotional resonance. Coogan is also quite fine as Philippa's ex-husband and Harry Lloyd shines as the actor portraying Richard III on stage and as a certain companion for Hawkins' Philippa.
The Lost King, which recently had a special screening at both Nashville Film Festival and my hometown Heartland International Film Festival, is already in U.K. theatres and has been picked up by IFC Films for a limited theatrical release here in the U.S.
I'm a sucker for a genuinely engaging underdog story and such is the case with The Lost King. Hawkins is, as we've come to expect, wonderful as the increasingly confident but always somewhat vulnerable Philippa. As a longtime Hawkins fan, I found The Lost King worth watching for her alone and there's little doubt that I'll watch it again. The Lost King is grounded enough that this true story never really feels larger than life, instead opting for a feel-good aura that empowers and inspires and celebrates this woman who'd had enough of being pushed around and did something about it.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic