Editor’s note: This is the third installment of an ongoing blog on films I enjoyed at HIFF–The Hawai’i International Film Festival
The Lost King
As mentioned in an earlier blog, HIFF is to be commended for its wide-ranging taste in choosing the submissions, which include European films.
One of HIFF’s selections this year is The Lost King, a UK production based on a true story about an amateur historian-sleuth, Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins) who is obsessed with finding the remains of the much-maligned King Richard III. The film is directed by Stephen Frears, a highly regarded Englishman who often depicts real life stories.
Frear’s protagonist, Philippa, is convinced the King has been given a bad rap—even disputing Shakespeare’s depiction, where Richard describes himself as “scarce half made up, and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me.”
After she digests a biography of Richard III that underscores the disparity between his disparaged reputation (a deformed, depraved usurper to the throne) and his “true” character (none of the above) she wants to set the record straight.
Whilst Philippa ponders where King Richard may be, her marriage is on the rocks. John (Steve Coogan) has moved to his own flat, dating women online. In the meantime they both need to attend to their adolescent boys and he’s not exactly supportive of her extracurricular activities.
As if her plate isn’t full enough, she’s got serious health issues (Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) and at the office her life is miserable. At age 40 the glass ceiling is all too present–she been passed over for younger, more attractive women. (The patriarchy up to their old tricks).
What’s Philippa to do?
She joins a group of fellow Richard III fanatics – misfits and eccentrics — self anointed Ricardians who meet at a local pub. The group inspires and supports her.
Another inspiration are the “visions” Philippa is having of Richard III, portrayed by Harry Lloyd, whose ubiquitous presence haunts her night and day. Fortunately he’s become her muse and helps her endeavor, sometimes on horseback.
The more research she does, the more convinced she’s become that Richard III is buried under a parking lot in the city of Leicester (which also happens to be the movie director, Stephen Frears’ hometown).
In addition to empirical evidence, Philippa is driven by her “feelings”, her spot-on intuition which is criticized (of course) by the “patriarchy” –men from the City Council, who must give her permission to dig and the University of Leicester, whose support she needs to find the iwi. (Yes folks, this film will appeal to the hearts of Hawai’i residents. It’s an archetypal iwi hunt).
Philippa doesn’t let the patriarchy rule the day.
She is on a “Truth Quest”, a spiritual journey, as West Oahu Professor Louis Herman explains in his seminal memoir, Future Primal. Nothing will stop her and ultimately, at the risk of a spoiler alert, she finds Richard III’s remains. This is one of those true stories where you can’t help but root for the spunky heroine who overcomes a host of obstacles to win the day.
Despite her successful quest, she’s not given credit by the University for her efforts. In this movie, University management is the bad guy.
The films suggests in a BBC article, that “she had to battle the university every step of the way – whether to dig, where to dig, what to do with the remains after the dig – and that the academics tried to sideline her, even preventing her from speaking at one press conference.”
In response, the university says that’s simply not true and that the film contains ‘many inaccuracies’. They claim to have “worked closely with Philippa Langley throughout the project”.
Whatever the truth is, this doesn’t impact the film’s evident dramatic appeal.
Hawkins is spectacular as the downtrodden, vulnerable character who overcomes adversity proves to the world that she should be taken seriously.
FWIW most of the critics weren’t wild about the film (mostly given it a paltry 3 stars) but I would have to disagree. I loved it.