The Lost King. Surprisingly Berserk

The bones of King Richard III being found in a Leicester car park is one of the most intriguing human interest stories to hit the UK in quite some time. The sort of stranger-than-fiction tale primed for a grey-pound film adaptation. Hence for the 10th anniversary of the events depicted here comes the screen version with awards baiting British Pedigree. Reuniting director Stephen Freeasus with screenwriters Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope following their Oscar-nominated crowd-pleaser Philomena seems like such an obvious play on paper. One could argue a certain amount of this materialises on screen as well. For one thing, Sally Hawkins is playing Philippa Langley the woman credited with spearheading the initial investigation. Coogan writes himself a role with the put up an ex-husband. The events and discovery of the king’s bones are dramatised on screen. So far so straightforward. Except this is a far weirder much riskier narrative device hiding just below the surface.
Now it’s time to get into the deranged stuff. Within the opening act of this dramatisation s Hawkins’s version of Langley goes to see a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. She then gets followed and has sporadic visions of this incarnation of Richard as portrayed by the actor she saw on stage (Harry Lloyd.) As the narrative progresses Langley in this version of the story has full-on conversations with the Shakespearean incarnation of the titular Last King. On one level this might be trying to say something thematic about the ubiquity with which certain media interpretations of historical figures take hold as the main narrative without any consideration for what their broader trait might have been. From a functional drama perspective though this narrative choice is completely beserk and brings up all sorts of ethical questions. These go beyond the fact that Leicester Uni is in the process of attempting to sue the filmmakers for their portrayal within the piece. Did the real Philippa Langley sign off on this? Hawkins’s interpretation of the character spends the entire film on the verge of a nervous breakdown. in another version of the same story with an identical narrative device, she could just as easily have gotten sanctioned on mental health grounds. Instead, because the core of the story is still effectively played out (they do find their bones) Langley gets treated as a hero where 5 minutes earlier she could have just as easily been detained as a total nutcase. Were the film not distinctly targeted at an audience who would choke on their tea and biscuits if they were to see any media above the compulsory 12A rating. You know what though. From this viewer’s perspective, these grey pound dramas are so dime a dozen that to see one that takes an active risk of this memorably audacious is definitively refreshing. Whether or not this swing for the fence works will depend on individual viewers’ discretion. it’s definitively sold effectively by Hawkins in the central role. Whether or not there are active grounds for defamation within the drama doesn’t seem to have crossed the players involves minds as they doubled down on the increasingly and potentially unhealthy depiction of the central characters’ mental health. That said having seen so many of these kinds of British comedy dramas over the years it’s rare to find one that any audience who sees it will not forget in a hurry.
The Lost King is that rare example of a film that may look inoffensive on the surface but hides a memorably audacious plot device just below the surface. Whether or not this bonkers decision works for individual audience members is down to individual taste. That said it’s rare to see a film of this type stick so definitively to a decidedly divisive mechanic. Much as the decision to include it may end up with the filmmaker getting egg on their face on several different levels The wild swing of its very existence is worth supporting. Not your typical Sunday afternoon matinee fare.

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