The Lost King


‘…even as a Sunday evening tv special for the oldies, The Lost King settles for twee self-empowerment sentiment and contrived conflict…’

The Creative Scotland logo is all over Stephen Frears’ feature The Lost King, but there’s not much Scottish here aside from pretty Edinburgh backgrounds and a few bit part players; this is a true story about English History, written by Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan and produced by his Baby Cow imprint, based in Vine Hill London. The Lost King is a fictionalised account of historian Philippa Langley, who successfully located and persuaded authorities to dig up the remains of King Richard III from deep beneath a social services car park in Leicester.

Played by Sally Hawkins, Philippa Langley is introduced as a lonely figure; her husband John (Coogan) is estranged and more interested in chasing women on the Plenty of Fish dating website than attending to their two sons. Langley attends a theatrical performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III, and feels some kind of cosmic connection to the king that leads to his ghost popping up unexpectedly in the style of Timothy Claypole in Rentaghost. Led by the spirit of the wronged Richard, played by Harry Lloyd in a role that cries out for stunt casting, Langley somehow intuits her way to the car park in Leicester despite having little evidence other than hunches and ‘feelings’. Screwed over by the feckless authorities involved, Langley raises the cash for the dig via crowd-funding with remarkable ease given that the film portrays everyone she meets as hating Richard, and the resolution of her obsession conveniently reunites her family as well as clearing the good King’s name.

Even as a Sunday evening tv special for the oldies, The Lost King settles for twee self-empowerment sentiment and contrived conflict. While Langley is seen as an almost saintly figure, troubled by visions and blessed with a cosmic link to royalty, most of the other historians and archaeologists are portrayed as grasping, pernicious, self-important windbags. This kind of artificially-induced conflict worked in Sully: Miracle on the Hudson as a device to contrive some drama where there is none, but with the fantasy elements jarring against mundane issues of credit for the discovery, The Lost King never finds a realistic tone. And while Langley is intent in changing the way the public see Richard, there’s no real index for how opinions about him might have been shifted in national or international minds.

Aside from a casual slam on Benedict Cumberbatch, who might have made a better Richard here, The Lost King’s suggestion of some kind of magical bond between royalty and the common man feels a minor variation on the current national sport of extreme toadying to the rich and powerful; whether any this narrative happened like this or not, nothing convinces here. And having the plot conveniently resolved by crowd-funding sticks in the craw from a project mopping up funds supposedly allocated for Scottish voices; until Scotland comes to its senses politically, we’re destined to be as crudely misrepresented in history and culture as Richard III has been.


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  1. The Lost Paddington. Now there’s a title. His historic marmalade sandwiches are dug up by Nicolas Cage who teams up with Scotland’s last grizzly bear to rout the villainous academics.

    • I can see why this would cause annoyance. I guess a film has to be creative to engage an audience, but the academics are portrayed in such an awful way to create drama. Given that this film aims to be about finding the truth, such embellishments are a big contradiction. Scotland doesn’t feature other than as postcard backdrop.

            • Special deal on Kings; get a Henry with every Richard. How much have you got? Could slide in an Ethelred the Unready as a sweetener…

                    • Yeah, Sauron sold me a bill of goods. So I destroyed him good. I had to write it as a novel because no one would have read it otherwise.

                    • I piled up the books high. Then I made another equally tall pile. The title of the book? The Two Towers. And another about a top hatted member of the gentry who becomes a bare knuckle boxer. Working title; The Lord of the Rings.

                    • That’s what I keep telling myself. You’re in New England, right? New Hampshire?

                    • Yep. Except Massholes from Massachusetts have finally ruined their own state so they’re invading and starting the destruction of our State. So I don’t know how much longer NH will remain NH.

                    • Appreciate the local color. Reviewing a film set there. Wanted to get my geography straight.

                    • Does it have nightclubs like the one run by Garsa Fwipp in Book of Boba Fett? The hospitality industry in Star Wars is pretty low rent stuff.

                      The Bee Gees wrote a song about Massachusetts, right?

                    • I have asked the wrong person.

                      I looked it up and this is it.

                      Talk about the life in Massachusetts
                      Speak about the people I have seen
                      And the lights all went out in Massachusetts
                      And Massachusetts is one place I have seen

                    • I’d the one place I’ve seen. I’ve never seen anywhere else. Nothing but Massachusetts. That’s the whole inventory of places I’ve seen. And then, the lights went out and I wrote this song about it.

                    • Thanks for the context. I’m thinking it might be time for the WP4 to take on the Scottish Widows!

  2. So this is inspired by a true story but it’s not really based on it? Sounds kind of unsatisfying, because the real story might have been more interesting.

    • To be fair to Coogan, it’s not his fault that Creative Scotland have acted like a volcanic plug to subdue attempts to depict Scottish history. But there’s been a huge kickback in the UK about how the other parties involved in discovering Richard III’s remains are depicted here. There are big and ongoing questions about the role history plays in our lives, but this ends up playing far too cutely with potentially spiky issues…

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