Review by Jonathan Berk
Director Stephen Frears's new film The Lost King is based on the true story of Philippa Langley (played by Sally Hawkins) on her quest to find the missing remains of King Richard III. It had long been believed his remains were scattered in the river 500 years before, and Philippa’s dedication and research pushed against academia. This all happened back in 2011, yet the story felt unfamiliar while watching the film. The journey Philippa goes on and the connection she feels for King Richard III clicks in the film, especially in Hawkins’s performance.
Hawkins's talent lies in her vulnerability. In both The Shape of Water and Spencer -- for the former of which she was nominated for an Oscar — her character has a clear desire and longing just beneath the surface. Hawkins can emote so much with the slightest twitch of her mouth, and it brings so much emotional stakes to every role. What makes her a great leading actress is her ability to still have a foundation of strength that supports that vulnerability. You believe she can overcome her obstacles because that strength is always present. Her role in Paddington 1 & 2 is a great example of her ability to perform as a strong female lead.
These qualities are used perfectly in this film to tell Philippa’s story. Philippa seems frequently disrespected by those around her. For example, she suffers from myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), and she frequently has to defend those around her by assuring them it is a real illness. We see she is picked over by younger co-workers, and it is implied she doesn’t stand up for herself often. Still, we see the potential in her early as she throws a little shade at her boss, even pointing out he seems to be reading out of an HR manual. These early scenes pay off when we see Philippa’s unwavering resolve to prove her research accurate. Philippa’s situation is empathetic on its own to anyone who ever felt unappreciated, and Hawkins’s performance only makes it more impactful.
Steve Coogan plays Philippa’s ex-husband, and he gives a very layered performance. It’s unclear how their relationship works, but over the course of the film, he becomes very lovable. There is a lot of humor sprinkled in the film, and that’s important, as there is a fantastical element. Philippa’s interest in King Richard III is sparked when she sees a performance of Shakespeare’s play, where the titular character is played by Harry Lloyd. Lloyd will be seen as Richard outside that theater in a clever plot device that may make or break an audience’s enjoyment of the film.
The Lost King was an often joyous film to watch, depicting the struggle of someone who frequently found herself in the position of an underdog. Hundreds of years of belief and an established “truth” are not easy to overturn. However, Phillipa refused to ignore the evidence and listen to the naysayers. The film's style and story paired with Hawkins and Coogan were enough to keep me invested, and realizing it was a true story only helped sell me on it.
The Lost King hits theaters on March 24.