Harry Lloyd and Sally Hawkins in The Lost King (2022)
The Lost King. Directed by Stephen Frears. Written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope. Various Canberra Cinemas.
ANSWERING ‘yes’ to the question ‘Have you read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time?’ would put you squarely in the audience for the film The Lost King.
It’s a gentle and good humoured telling of Philippa Langley’s drive to find the body of Richard 111, although not without commentary on the difficulties she had to be taken seriously as a non-expert and as a woman.
Sally Hawkins shines as Philippa and Steve Coogan is grumpily supportive as her estranged husband. Harry Lloyd is both the actor playing Richard 111 in a production of the Shakespeare play that Philippa takes one of her young sons to see and an historical Richard quietly haunting her until she starts to pursue the real story. Which the Shakespeare, enthralling though it is, is not.
The film more or less assumes that the audience has some idea of the territory. Shakespeare, writing over 100 years after the Battle of Bosworth and the arrival of Henry VII, is not necessarily doing history.
Philippa, beset by MS and a job where she is not valued, falls in with a Richard 111 group. Did he usurp the throne? Did he murder his young nephews? She is disconcerted to find that the king has no known grave. She finds a purpose in searching it out, despite the scepticism of a number of historical and archaeological experts.
Josephine Tey in 1951 had her fictional police inspector Alan Grant work on the mystery from his hospital bed. Philippa’s quest also has its handicaps and hinderances, but anyone who followed the real life finding of ‘the king in the carpark’ will know how this turns out.
Bosworth Field, where Richard was defeated and killed, is just down the road from Leicester. I can remember years ago wandering past the Greyfriars site and thinking ’He’s over there somewhere’, (not being very convinced by the theory that the body was thrown into the nearby river Soar)
This film is about someone who went further than that thought. That Richard’s persistent presence haunts her is odd but works, especially in a tense moment when the question of the fate of his nephews arises but is not answered. Philippa’s two young sons are an echo in the story, not over stressed but present. The whole story is intriguing and underplayed, with some great location work in Edinburgh (where Philippa and family live) and a few glimpses of a pretty recognisable red brick Leicester.
Richard eventually acquires a horse, white of course (‘Saddle White Surrey for the field tomorrow’ says the Shakespearean Richard but there sadly does not seem be any contemporary evidence for this beast) and is in full armour at his final meeting with Philippa and with his destiny.
Bosworth? Heaven? It’s a green and eminently pleasant field, but debate still goes on about that battle’s exact location. The film finally throws in footage of the real reinterment of Richard in Leicester Cathedral which is moving stuff, with a glimpse (if you are alert) of the real Philippa Langley.
The Lost King is low key in the same way as Tey’s The Daughter of Time and a story of a similar persistence. (And it’s about time a decent screen or TV version of that novel was made.) This film might baffle some but for those who’ve tussled with the problem of Richard 111 it’s one to add to the pile.