A search for redemption in “The Lost King”

Published 10:45 am Monday, April 17, 2023

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Being exhumed this week at Tryon Theatre is “The Lost King,” a film about the search for, and the hopeful unearthing of, the long-lost British monarch, Richard III, whose resting place was literally lost to history. 

“The Lost King” is a creative adaptation of a true story, as told in the biographical book, The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III (2013). At the center of this story is the book’s author, Philipa Langley. Langley, in her translation from reality to the screen, is played by the wonderfully emotive and grounded Sally Hawkins, whose characters always feel remarkably genuine, despite any narrative absurdity around them. Phillipa Langley is one such character.

In her day-to-day life, Philipa has become adrift, disheartened by the imbalance of aging, feeling unseen professionally, and feeling unfairly maligned for suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Amidst her angst and depression, she attends a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III, a play in which Richard III’s portrayal is that of a murderous and spiteful man, punishing the world for his “deformity” as a hunchback. Philipa finds herself pitying Richard III’s character, feeling he too was unfairly maligned, both in the play and in history. 

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Soon after her revelation, Philipa explores this budding empathetic connection to Richard III in the film’s most unique narrative device: she imagines herself in real-time conversation with apparitions of Richard III, probing his taciturn countenance for the “truth” of his story. These early beats of the story set up the emotional basis of the film’s plot, as Philipa takes her newfound passion on a search to find Richard III’s resting place, the location of which was purportedly long lost. 

This investigative journey has Philipa poised against the world, as she finds opposition to her efforts from academia, bureaucracy, and her own husband, alike. However, despite the stacked obstacles to Philipa’s success, her resolve and effort are unwavering. Philipa, in her newfound tether of empathy to Richard III, is newly invigorated, emboldened in her increasing competence and undeterred by the largely gendered criticism of her inexperience. She soon finds herself shedding the shackles of her earlier emotional malaise, alive with purpose and confidence, but nonetheless unsure of the fruitfulness of her dedication.  

Guiding the cinematic paces of this film is the experienced and steady hand of Stephen Frears, an English director with a long and diverse career, perhaps most famous for the ever-praised “High Fidelity” (2000). He brings this honed cinematic talent to the film, providing a unique rhythm of intrigue, charm and imagination. This film will be a guaranteed treat for any anglophilic filmgoer, any fan of Sally Hawkins or almost any fan of film in general. “The Lost King” will be greatly enjoyed by us, and we hope to see you there!