The Lost King movie review & film summary (2023)
Movie Reviews

The Lost King movie review & film summary (2023)

This was the culmination of a long, long fight. The “Ricardians,” as they call themselves, didn’t believe the story that Richard’s body was dumped into a river following the battle on Bosworth field. Ricardians want to correct the historical record and rehabilitate the reputation of Richard III, who is generally seen as not only a villain but a “usurper,” not a legitimate king at all. The Ricardians dispute this narrative, and they come with receipts. For example, the city of York responded to the news of Richard’s death with: “King Richard late mercifully reigning over us was through great treason piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city.” This is hardly “Ding Dong the Witch is dead.” Not one word about his tyranny? Not one word about the princes in the tower? Not one word about … anything? Shakespeare is mainly to blame for Richard’s reputation as an almost cartoonish villain, having his Richard say at one point:

“And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With old odd ends stolen out of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”

Shakespeare took his interpretation from the existing chronicles (after all, Richard died only 100 years before Shakespeare wrote his play). The “usurper”‘s reputation has been in the hands of his enemies ever since.

“The Lost King” walks you through it, adding a couple of whimsical details, as well as pumping up Philippa’s emotional drama, centralizing her in the story. This is meant to “personalize” it, to ground it in one woman’s journey towards actualization. These details work in a fairly obvious way, detracting from the interest already inherent in this 500-year-old murder mystery. For example, Philippa is basically “stalked” by an apparition, Richard III himself (Harry Lloyd), complete with a flowing purple cape and golden crown. He shows up everywhere, beseeching her with his eyes to help him. She speaks with him late at night. She asks him questions. When she asks if he murdered “the princes in the tower” (those vanished princes are key!), he stalks off in a huff, hurt that she would even ask. It’s a bit corny. Philippa’s two small sons think she’s going mad. Her husband (Steve Coogan, who produced) is also worried and maybe slightly jealous. “The Lost King” positions itself as a love affair between Philippa and Richard, an unnecessary emotional embellishment, as though passionate engagement with history isn’t enough. The heightened emotionality is intensified by Alexandre Desplat’s score; Sally Hawkins plays it on the trembling edge of tragic romance.

Philippa faces resistance as she conducts her own investigation. She makes appeals for funding, and she reaches out to an archaeologist, showing him her research. She does a lot of reading, but we’re never shown what actually convinces her the narrative is wrong. She receives “signs” (a huge letter ‘R” in the car park, etc.) and follows her gut. I’m more impressed with the legwork done by all, the ability to read between the lines of highly biased historical records to try to approximate what really happened. Feelings are great, but you need more than “feelings” to dig up a lost king.

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