Watching a true story depicted in cinema that you’re completely unaware of doesn’t happen too often. Most of the time, a biopic or a biographical drama is trafficking in a person or a story you’re at least somewhat knowledgable about.. Thats part of why the genre can wear thin on some. With The Lost King, we have a pretty fascinating tale that I actually knew absolutely nothing about. That fascination helps make the experience of this low-key film all the more effective. It’s lightly charming, though clearly aiming for more. The movie misses that mark, but it still manages to entertain.
The Lost King comes from the same creative forces behind Philomena. Don’t expect as unlikely a crowd-pleaser and winner as that one, but this is still an enjoyable experience. It’s somehow even lower-key, and makes one very odd narrative choice, but it goes down similarly easy. In trying to tell the story of how one ordinary woman attempted to make the world rethink the legacy of a king, it can’t quite bring all of that weight to bear, but it does just enough to warrant a recommendation.
Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins) is a middle-aged woman struggling in London. She’s under-appreciated in her office sales job, dealing with chronic fatigue, and seems to only have a friendly relationship with her ex-husband John (Steve Coogan), who is always around to help out with their two sons. Something is clearly missing in her life, though it appears she finds it while taking one of her children to see Richard III on stage. The play itself doesn’t work for her, as she sees issue with how the King is presented, but it lingers with her, literally to the point of seeing apparitions of Richard (Harry Lloyd). Soon, she’s buying all the books on him she can, joining the Richard III Society, and even getting caught up in the search for where he might be buried. Between some light sleuthing and a little luck, she seems to have stumbled on his potential remains, under a parking lot, no less.
Of course, just because she may have discovered something that has stumped historians for centuries, it doesn’t mean she gets any respect. Shrugged off as an amateur historian, even those trying to help her like Richard Buckley (Mark Addy) are quick to cast her aside. So, not only will she have to fight to get everyone to take her possible findings seriously, she’ll also have to fight to receive any credit. That it’s based on a true story does remove some of the tension, but seeing how it eventually unfolded is undeniably pleasing. Plus, who doesn’t want to see an everywoman take on stodgy bureaucrats and historians and actually win?
Sally Hawkins is easily best and show and the highlight of The Lost King. In fact, Hawkins has rarely been better than she is here, making an ordinary woman seem anything but. She accentuates how her character is consistently underestimated, making every little win seem even bigger. Watching her is a pleasure. Steve Coogan is solid in a role that asks fairly little of him, while Harry Lloyd does what he can with a part that I never got on board with in the slightest. Supporting players, in addition to Mark Addy, include James Fleet, Jessica Hardwick, and more.
Director Stephen Frears takes a workmanlike approach to the material. Along with writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, this is aiming to be just as uplifting as Philomena. It falls short of that, without the emotional highs, but it does have a consistent charm that keeps you invested in Philippa. The main flaw here from Frears, Coogan, and Pope, is in the visions of Richard III. It’s not handled particularly cleverly, conveniently advances the plot, and threatens to take you out of the story. It’s the main shortcoming that kept this one from winning me over on an even larger scale.
The Lost King isn’t as effective as Philomena, but it works of its own accord. It sort of wants to be a lighthearted spin on something like The Da Vinci Code, albeit with much more of an amateur sleuthing vibe. Flaws aside, Hawkins is code, there’s charm to be had, and it ends on a rather crowd-pleasing note. As long as your expectations are properly in check, it should prove to be a reasonably good time.