Directed by the under-appreciated Stephen Frears, The Lost King stars Sally Hawkins as an amateur historian who becomes interested in the burial site of King Richard III after she sees a rendition of Shakespeare’s play about that King. Steve Coogan co-stars as the woman’s estranged husband, and Harry Lloyd plays Richard III in fantasy sequences that guide Hawkins’s Philippa Langley as she tries to solve the mystery.
Most “based on a true story” films use the real person’s story to communicate a theme or an idea of some emotional resonances, and The Lost King follows suit, but it’s so scattershot that it doesn’t pick a lane. There are moments about how women are often downgraded in the workplace and how men often take credit for women’s work. These parts of the film were interesting, but this theme was only explored in a segment of the film.
There was another interesting theme about male and female ways of knowing: that men and women come to truth in different ways. Once again, these segments were interesting but too brief.
The fantasy sequences involving Lloyd’s Richard III seemed out of another movie. What are we to make of the idea that the protagonist is holding full conversations with an imaginary Richard III? Is she deranged? Was she visited by his ghost? Or was it simply that the filmmakers were trying to add some quirky charm to a film they feared might be too bland for a popular audience? Regardless, the fantasy sequences made the film tonally inconsistent.
That said, Hawkins is quite good. She masters the subtleties of this character: Hawkins is able to convey the degree to which Philippa is hurt by other characters’ behaviors at the same time as she conveys Philippa’s need to keep her grip on her emotions. There are levels to this performance that Hawkins brilliantly embodies.
The Lost King isn’t going to light up the American box office, but even though it is unfocused, there is a unique British charm to the film’s characters and central mystery. It is not without its merits, and the right audience might enjoy what it has to offer.