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I was impressed and I think this film will do a great deal of good for Richard’s reputation. In 2021 the film The Dig about the archaeological excavation of Sutton Hoo was a surprise hit but I think The Lost King has the potential to surpass that and be nominated for awards. A film must entertain and this one certainly did.
From the non-Ricardian viewpoint, it has all the right ingredients beginning with a performance of Shakespeare’s notorious play followed by a gentle questioning of the myths in that play to begin with, progressing through Philippa’s research (without this seeming too laborious) and culminating in the cliff-hanging detective work with an emotional thread running through it.I have no idea how much Philippa’s condition of ME impacted her at the time but thought it was insightful in that she was able to point out how people made assumptions about her because of this little-understood illness in the same way as they make assumptions about Richard’s deformity and character.
The members of the Edinburgh (surely Scottish?) Branch of Ricardians were portrayed as oddballs and a lecturer called the Society “the fan club” but it was a nice touch to mention the previous Society Chair Dr Phil Stone’s personal donation of £5,000 to the excavation fund. Some may feel Philippa was portrayed as being too emotional but it is easy to see why Leicester University viewed her in that light to begin with, given that she was an amateur historian and a woman to boot. It was heartwarming to see how Philippa’s ex-husband John and the archaeologist Richard Buckley began by being cynical and dismissive but ended up being supportive, as did her sons. Pride of place in the casting credits must go to James Fleet however as John Ashdown-Hill, for those fortunate enough to have met him have commented on how alike they looked and sounded. We know Sally Hawkins didn’t look anything like Philippa Langley but I doubt Philippa was bothered about that and she had her own little cameo appearance (like Hitchcock) in the cathedral scene. (not actually Leicester, I think, but perhaps their renovations had already started?).
And then we have Richard himself in the person of actor Harry Lloyd. Some may disagree about the visions but I thought his inclusion was masterly and really made the film. At first, he was just a fleeting apparition. Then he still didn’t say anything, just lifted an eyebrow or displayed a faint smile. Yes, he was probably a bit tall for Richard but he looked splendid and showed no outward sign of disability, as Richard wouldn’t have, fully dressed. When he did begin to speak, he didn’t say much but just enough. I am sure I wasn’t the only one to wipe a tear from my eye when he told Philippa “You know the truth and that is enough”, before snapping his visor shut and riding off to his fate on Bosworth Field. (It was a nice touch for Philippa to meet the real actor again later). The other memorable lines in the film for me were:-
John saying “You shouldn’t demonise nor sanctify him. He was probably normal (I paraphrase) and we are all imperfect.”
And then the humdinger from Philippa to Richard Taylor of Leicester University at the reception:- “A twisted spine does NOT mean a twisted character!” The real Richard Taylor is up in arms about his portrayal in the film, unsurprisingly, and threatening to sue. (He was played with an urbane nastiness by Lee Ingilby to great effect.) Well, we will probably never know if he implied such a thing but there is no doubt that Leicester University did try to sideline Philippa and take the credit. Some feel that the University as a whole was in fact let off lightly, and it has been pointed out that Richard’s remains were not transferred to a Catholic place of sanctuary as formerly agreed. So well done to Steve Coogan for redressing the balance. He has shot up inestimably in my approval ratings! And well done to the sensitivity of Stephen Frears as Director. I think The Lost King will make us many more friends and even attract new members.
Reviewed by Alison Harrop