The hunt for Richard III


“The Lost King” arrives at the M.V. Film Center on Friday, March 24. This film explores what happened to King Richard III at the end of his life. Directed by Stephen Frears, it stars Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan. Hawkins has two Oscar nominations, as well as many other awards. She’s also played in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” as well as an Oscar-nominated role in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” Perhaps her best performance, for which she won another Oscar nomination, was for “The Shape of Water,” about a humanoid amphibian. Equally accomplished, Coogan won Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

It’s important to recognize the skills of these two actors, because the film per se is not particularly vivid. Instead, it’s a pleasure to watch Hawkins’ and Coogan’s performances. The film was based on the 2013 book, “The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III,” and is based on a true story.

It begins with Hawkins as Philippa Langley, a woman who is passed over at her job despite her insistence that her chronic fatigue syndrome hasn’t affected her work. Philippa attends a performance of “Richard III,” and it inspires her to investigate a potential misinterpretation of the facts by Tudor propagandists. She’s convinced he was not a hunchback, but suffered from scoliosis, or a curvature of the spine. Nor did he murder his two nephews or seize the throne after his brother died. Even Shakespeare, writing about Richard 100 years after his death, had it wrong, according to Philippa.

Philippa’s ex-husband, played by Coogan, supports his ex-wife, and helps take care of their two children. Philippa begins to have visions of Richard, whom she talks to. To get support, she joins the local Richard III Society. Her research reveals two opposing theories. The first is that he was buried in 1485 in the locale of the Leicester Greyfriars priory choir. The second is that his body was thrown into the River Soar.

Philippa learns that after the Greyfriars priory was razed during the 16th century Reformation, the mayor of Leicester had a shrine built in his garden, with the statement, “Here lies the body of Richard III, sometime king of England.”

This discovery makes Philippa reject the River Soar conjecture, and she decides that a Leicester government car park, painted with an “R,” may be the site of Richard’s burial. She contacts a University of Leicester archaeologist, Richard Buckley and collaborates with him. To get enough money to support the dig to discover Richard’s remains, Philippa turns to the Richard III Society. They obtain the necessary money through crowdfunding on the internet for the dig. The catch is that the university takes all the credit.

So it goes with this intriguing bit of history, and it illustrates what happens when an amateur sleuth finds out what really happened to Richard III. Viewers can try doing some research of their own.

Information and tickets for “The Lost King” are available at