Richard III’s Redemption Story Needs More Stephen Frears Magic [TIFF]

Dec 8, 2022

There once was a noble King whose reputation was slandered following his death. His enemies made sure that his name was equated with the worst rulers of his land. Over the centuries, these falsehoods became fact and even one of the greatest playwrights of the time was complicit in badmouthing him. For Philippa Langley, a marketing professional in the early 21st Century, the more she read about this particular British Monarch the more she began to believe his reputation had been sullied. And, in many ways, he was a man who had been ignored and ridiculed. Something she was experiencing in her own career. That’s the narrative basis for Stephen Frears’ “The Lost King,” which debuted at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival this past weekend and attempts to give King Richard III of England something of a glow-up.
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Less than a decade ago, Langley was the driving force behind the search for King Richard III’s remains. History had said they had been thrown in a river after he was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Turns out that wasn’t the case. Langley even went on record about the “feeling” she had while walking in a car park in the City of Leichter, a feeling that told her that was where the king’s remains were hidden. It’s the sort of true-life story movies are made of. Or so you’d think
Portrayed with passionate vigor by Sally Hawkins, the film’s version of Langley is that of a working mother co-raising her two young sons in Edinburgh, Scotland. She’s managing an unusual family situation with her recently separated husband, played by Steve Coogan (also co-screenwriter), still very much in the mix. How much of Langley’s real-life story has been dramatized for the proceedings is unclear, but her film incarnation also suffers from a chronic illness that has affected her standing at her sales gig. A job she desperately needs to keep a roof over her kids’ heads (and is one reason her husband stays close to lend a helping hand). Passed over for a promotion (multiple times, we assume), she focuses her frustration by diving into the world of the controversial king after attending a local production of Shakespeare’s play, “Richard III.” A king whose apparition appears in her company’s courtyard and her own backyard. A vision who looks like the same actor who played Richard on stage, and in this case, that actor is played by Harry Lloyd.
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Slightly obsessed with the historical discrepancies in Richard’s life, Langley joins the local chapter of the Richard III Society, a group of amateur scholars who have become fixated on proving the monarch’s noteworthy contributions. It’s there she learns of the controversy over Richard’s remains and begins to do her own research to find them. Eventually, she reaches out to an archeologist at the University of Leicester, Richard Buckley (Mark Addy), who agrees to work for her if she can pay him for his services. Sadly, to excavate a site where she believes he’s buried, Langley ends up having to raise money through the society. That’s because neither the University nor the City Council will pay for it. It turns out that despite her research, even Buckley isn’t convinced her theory will pan out.
In a vacuum, Langley’s true story is quite remarkable, but sadly, the elements don’t truly come together in this somewhat by-the-numbers film. There are some sweet moments between Langley and her husband, but the rest all sort of plays out in a manner that sort of diminishes her achievement (which is still hard to believe). Maybe the producers, including Coogan, thought Frears could take the material to another level. But the cinematic spark Frears has conjured over the past decade in films such as “Philomena” and “Florence Foster Jenkins” is absolutely missing here. You’d never even know it was a Frears-directed film unless you saw the title card.
And the Richard III apparition? Like many ghosts, it doesn’t really seem like it’s even there. Maybe it wasn’t necessary for the film. Or maybe there’s simply not enough for him to do (he barely speaks, and when he does, Lloyd isn’t given a lot to say). But outside of Hawkins, who is almost always compelling on screen, this is one “Lost King” that is simply to hard to find. But Langley’s story? It’s fascinating enough to make you want to hunt down the documentary about her journey, “Richard III: The King in the Car Park.” Anybody got a link? [C+]
Follow along with all our coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
“The Lost King” will hit theaters sometime in 2022.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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