The location of the remains of King Richard III had been a mystery for over 500 years after his defeat and death in the Battle of Bosworth. While many had given up and assumed that his remains had been lost to time, some still wished to pursue the impossible — including Philippa Langley, an amateur historian.
Except, Langley defied the odds and helped lead the project that would eventually find Richard’s remains in 2012. “The Lost King,” a dramatization of Langley’s relentless hunt for Richard’s final resting place, is a charming (if slow-paced) dramedy that follows a lone woman’s challenge against the academics that wished to ignore her and the erroneous beliefs of a controversial king.
Langley (Sally Hawkins) lives her day-to-day life as a mother with a nine-to-five, while managing her myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E.), or chronic fatigue. Losing out on a promotion to a less-experienced, prettier woman, Langley sees herself and her struggles reflected in Richard when she attends a rendition of Shakespeare’s play “Richard III” with her son. Except now, she’s haunted by an apparition of Richard (Harry Lloyd) himself, who assists Langley in her pursuit of his elusive grave, alongside fellow Ricardians.
Richard’s spectral presence on its own adds a ridiculous flair to the film despite largely being grounded in reality. Nonetheless, instead of using tropes that could have easily been exploited, there’s a subtle humor to “The Lost King” that enhances the film: One of the Ricardian experts Langley consults has a hairstyle strikingly similar to Richard’s, while her ex-husband mentions that it feels like a ghost is cuckolding him, making “The Lost King” overtly fun and enjoyable.
However, humor isn’t the only thing driving the experience of “The Lost King.” There’s a level of emotional nuance that the film not only explores through Langley’s chronic fatigue, but how she is connected to Richard across time through their disabilities. Whether it’s Richard being villainized through his disability or Langley being disparaged because of it, “The Lost King,” an empathetic exploration of humanity, emerges as a fantastic exploration of how disabilities are viewed by society.
Hawkins in particular is a dynamic force to be reckoned with. Down to the most minute details, Hawkins fluidly portrays the volatile emotions Langley goes through and the effects of not only her chronic fatigue, but the reproach she experiences in her pursuit of Richard’s lost remains. From her microexpressions to the way she carries herself, Hawkins makes a striking impression on the viewers from the first moments of “The Lost King.” Hawkins makes the entire film worth watching if only to see her thoughtful, compassionate performance as Langley.
The reverence and fascination with British royalty may not always translate well outside of a British audience, especially as we see the frenzy and fascination kick up after discovering Richard’s remains. Viewers don’t need to feel or even understand that fascination, however, to appreciate the significance of Langley’s discovery and admire her tenacity.
Yet, “The Lost King” is fairly slow-moving. Not only does the build-up to Langley’s hunt for Richard’s final resting place take time, but at 108 minutes, scenes could certainly have been trimmed down. Moments that were stretched for dramatic effect had the unintended consequence of throwing the pacing off and making the film seem longer than it already is. “The Lost King” isn’t meant to be a film that viewers should be on the edge of their seats for, but it can nonetheless feel slower than a slow burn.
As “The Lost King” debuts in theaters across the globe, it emerges as a remarkable, sensitive exploration of Langley’s academic pursuit of Richard’s grave and the commonly held misconceptions the public had of him. Beyond that, however, are universal themes of the humanity everyone has — even history’s most controversial — and a challenge to unchecked biases.