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Reel Streaming: The Return of the Lost King

By Laurence Lerman / New York City

Sally Hawkins and Harry Lloyd in The Lost King
Sally Hawkins and Harry Lloyd in The Lost King

For a fellow who died in 1485, Richard III is having a good run. Lately, the controversial last king of the House of York seems to be everywhere. Shakespeare’s Richard III made a couple of appearances on New York stages in 2022—once via the SoHo Shakespeare Company’s production at the Flea Theater in Tribeca last fall, and another time as part of the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park offerings in Central Park at the Delacorte Theater.

Both productions offered contemporary portraits of the 15th century king. The Public Theater’s adaptation featured Black Panther’s Danai Gurira, offering her own juicy, leather-clad interpretation of the much-storied royal.

Richard returns to the city this month with the arrival of the film The Lost King in select U.S. theaters on March 24. The British production premiered in September at the 2022 Toronto Film Festival, and it opened to a positive reception in U.K. theaters the following month. It is not another Shakespearean take on the material, but rather a fascinating look at the 2012 search for the remains of King Richard. The monarch was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field near the end of the War of the Roses and hastily buried without pomp at the site of a former church, the exact location lost to time.

Or so the story goes.

Directed by Stephen Frears and co-written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, The Lost King is based on the true story of amateur historian Philippa Langley. The research she conducted led to the discovery of Richard’s remains beneath a parking lot in Leicester on August 25, 2012, 527 years to the day after he was killed in battle.

The years-long run-up to the archaeological excavation found Langley, the divorced, chronically exhausted mother of two, clashing with Britain’s most eminent historians and academics. Many of them, the film shows, were dismissive of and patronizing towards her—before attempting to claim the credit when her research ultimately proved to be correct.

"At every turn they marginalized her, edged her out, because she wasn't cut from the right cloth," said co-writer Coogan in an interview with BBC Radio 4. Coogan co-stars in the film alongside Sally Hawkins, who portrays Phillippa Langley. The intrepid Ms. Langley co-wrote the 2013 book The King's Grave: The Search for Richard III, upon which the film is based.

Sally Hawkins
Sally Hawkins

The movie also features Mark Addy as Richard Buckley, the real-life University of Leicester archaeologist who was initially supportive of Langley, and Harry Lloyd as an actor who stars as the king in a staged performance of Richard III that Langley attends and whose Richard appears to Langley in visions—not as the deformed and wicked villain that Shakespeare imagined, but rather a misunderstood and damned good-looking guy. It’s no surprise that he helps inspire Langley in her search.

Langley’s story of her search for the lost king has become well-known over the past decade, as has her involvement with the “Richard III Society,” an eccentric group of “Ricardians” dedicated to disputing the negative reputation Richard has developed over the centuries. They even got onboard to crowd-fund Langley’s “Looking for Richard” campaign when the Leicester Town Council dropped out—even though the council members liked the publicity. In telling Langley’s tale, the filmmakers have leaned into the underdog aspect of the narrative, complete with Hawkins bringing to life a character who overcomes a number of obstacles in a male-dominated world in her quest for Richard, while yearning to be taken seriously.

Director Stephen Frears (l.) with actor Steve Coogan (ctr.) and co-writer Jeff Pope
(from left) Director Stephen Frears, with actor Steve Coogan and co-writer Jeff Pope

With its roots in a real-life story, focus on social class consciousness, and light-and-lively blend of drama and comedy, The Lost King is an agreeable entry in director Stephen Frears ever-expanding canon.

With credits dating back to his 1969 debut helming episodes of the Yorkshire-based cop drama Parkins Patch, Frears remains one of the U.K.’s most consistent and prolific creators of film and television content for over a half-century. Right out of the gate, Frears proved himself to be adept at taking on the kind of reality-based stories and idiosyncratic characters that would define so much of his work over the subsequent 50 years.

Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan
Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan

Frears focused primarily on television in the ’70s, helming a slew of TV movies and numerous dramas for the BBC and ITV’s highly regarded anthology series. He moved on to such lauded British arthouse features in the ’80s as The Hit (1984) My Beautiful Launderette (1985) and 1987’s Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and Prick Up Your Ears. The latter pair secured him his first Hollywood gig for 1988’s period romantic drama Dangerous Liaisons.

Since then, it’s been an assortment of both high-profile and specialized film and TV productions on both sides of the pond, including the films The Grifters (1990), High Fidelity (2000), The Queen (2006) and Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) and TV’s The Snapper (1993), a live adaptation of Fail Safe (2000), and the miniseries A Very English Scandal (2018).

Frears, Coogan and co-writer Pope previously collaborated on the 2013 serio-comedic bio-pic Philomena about adoption-rights advocate Philomena Lee. Tha movie also features “a woman battling against big vested interests,” as Coogan put it during a press junket. Picking up that film’s distinctly light dramatics and bittersweetly comedic tone, The Lost King is a very comfortable watch with charm to spare, most of it provided by the always-reliable Hawkins and her soft-spoken presence.

The skeletal remains of King Richard III, found underneath a car park in Leicester, England
The skeletal remains of King Richard III, found underneath a car park in Leicester, England

And unlike the contemporary takes on Shakespeare’s Richard III that popped up across New York last year, Frears’ film doesn’t make any tough demands on its audience save for getting behind the lady at its center and the king she feels it is her duty to honor.  


Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site

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