The combination of director Stephen Frears with writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope created the Oscar-winning combination that was Philomena. It’s no surprise, then, that their second collaboration, The Lost King was one of the most exciting high-profile premieres at this year’s TIFF. While it’s far from the strength of Philomena, it’s still a charming little movie.
In the film, an amateur historian finds an unlikely fascination with finding the remains of King Richard III and disproving the myths levied against him by the likes of William Shakespeare. The film’s subject, Philippa Langley, actually did this in the early 2010s and wrote a book about her experiences from which the film was adapted.
The film’s pacing ends up being one of its more underwhelming aspects. It takes about forty-five minutes before the character even decides to set out on excavating Richard III’s remains, and by the time that actually starts happening, there’s only about a half hour of the film left. This final act is where a majority of the most interesting shit happens, causing the film to feel rushed as a whole.
Ultimately, the film almost feels as if it is not as triumphant as it should be. The entire third act is a bit of a letdown. It ends exactly as you would expect it to — especially if you are familiar with the true story at its core — but it isn’t the predictability that is the film’s killer. It’s the fact that the film can’t decide whether it wants to be cynical or hopeful, loving or mocking, creating a film that feels frustratingly uneven.
It’s clear that the film is attempting to say something interesting about the inherent misogyny of the community in which the film takes place, but unfortunately, it doesn’t really develop the themes as well as it should. This is arguably why it never feels like the protagonist is winning — even when she is — but it really undermines any gravity that the story could have had.
Sally Hawkins is absolutely exceptional in her role. Her performance is genuinely the driving force of the film, taking a character that easily could have been slightly silly and turning it into something that is entirely believable and authentic. Coogan also gets a role that is pretty unorthodox, defying the audience’s traditional expectations of the supportive spouse in any drama like this.
Frears brings a unique style to it, shooting it almost as if it were a Hitchcockian psychological thriller with a comedic edge. This starts in the opening credits, which are seemingly inspired by the work that Saul Bass did on many of Hitchcock’s films. It seems a bit off-putting at first, but once it really finds its rhythm and Hawkins begins treating her character’s journey like a “case,” it starts to work really well.
The Lost King is a definite crowd-pleaser, even if it feels a bit too rushed for its own good. The story and the approach the filmmakers take to it is certainly interesting, although it does end up feeling a bit underdeveloped. 7/10.
The Lost King screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 8-18.