Sally Hawkins is luminously good in the gentle charms of The Lost King, just don’t peel away too many layers of the story…
“Your mother’s just found Richard III”
Directed by Stephen Frears and written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, The Lost King reunites the core team behind Philomena, only with Sally Hawkins as actor-muse in place of Dame Judi Dench. And once again, a stellar performance from the lead is what one takes away from the work. Hawkins plays Philippa Langley, a writer and amateur historian who battled health difficulties and institutional disinterest to lead the successful discovery of the remains of Richard III, and she is luminously great as she combines vulnerability and strength in her inimitable way.
The film around her is slightly less assured. Entirely gentle in its outlook, it ventures a few interesting hypotheses as Philippa sets out her defence of Richard’s character and the way he has been demonised by history but then proceeds to commit the exact same sins in establishing the academic establishment so clearly as the antagonists in her path. Coogan and Pope may not be letting anything get in the way of a good story but when many of those involved have highly disputed their depiction here, there’s something deeply ironic about the narrative they want to push.
You can let that shape your experience of the film as much or as little as you like. Langley’s struggles with ME and life as a divorced mother of two mean Hawkins has a lot to get her teeth into, not least also being haunted (or guided) by the spirit of Richard himself (Harry Lloyd looking mighty fine in shiny armour). With gentle being the watchword, these scenes could have had so much more packed into them but there’s little interest in giving us any sniff of what character Richard might have had. Perhaps rightly, the focus stays more with Philippa and all of her hard work.
There’s good support from Coogan as the ex-husband and supportive co-parent and Mark Addy as patient archaeologist Richard Buckley, plus bright spots from the likes of Amanda Abbington as a friendly councillor and Lee Ingleby as the university bigwig and baddie. And the end result can’t help but be charming as Hawkins gets to play the bittersweet notes of the archetypal Brit flick climax as scrolling epilogue notes fill us in on the ‘true’ aftermath. An entirely amiable watch but one to do your reading around afterwards too.