“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
According to William Shakespeare’s play, they’re King Richard III’s last words before his enemies slay him. And good riddance to him, so say most people by the end of the play. To many, the hunchbacked villain got what he deserved.
But when Philippa Langley sees the play, she can’t help but feel sympathy for the man.
“I just don’t believe someone would be that wicked because of a disability,” she says.
Philippa’s had her own experience with people discounting her because of an impairment. She’s got myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a disease which causes her extreme chronic fatigue. It’s the reason her boss didn’t select her for his marketing “super team,” for instance.
She begins to wonder whether Richard III got a bad rap simply because of his hunchback. And that’s when she starts seeing hallucinations of the man—ones where he seems to beckon her to study more about him. After buying out all the books she can find on the much-maligned king and joining a group that advocates for positive representations of Richard III, Philippa becomes convinced that the man has indeed been unfairly represented in history.
To pay her respects (and perhaps to honor the apparition that walks alongside her), Philippa decides that she’d like to visit the king’s grave. However, she is quickly informed that no one exactly knows what happened to Richard III’s body. Most say that his remains were thrown into a river, while others say his burial site has been lost to the ages.
So, what better way to bring honor to the lost king than to find him? Philippa sets off in search of Richard III’s body, enduring all the discounting and mockery other people give her. But with Richard III by her side, she won’t be deterred.
Philippa initially begins her research into King Richard III because she, at her core, relates to the man. She’s experienced dismissals and judgment because of her ME, and it causes her to wonder if Richard III was treated similarly because of his scoliosis.
“People find out this one thing about you, and that’s all they can see,” Philippa says. “But there’s more to me than that.”
While we never fully learn whether the treatment of the king was based on his condition, Philippa’s sympathetic demeanor toward him because of that idea is nevertheless positive.
Though Philippa and her ex-husband, John, are divorced, the two remain friendly in order to provide a more stable home for their children. In fact, John sacrifices some of his personal desires in order to help Philippa while she searches for Richard III.
People donate money to help fund Philippa’s archeological dig. While she still struggles with being overshadowed, Philippa learns to stick up for herself more frequently. And though the truth of Richard III’s demeanor will perhaps never be confirmed, The Lost King brings forth a lesser-known evidence-based perspective on a man that contrasts what many are taught about him.
While somewhat portrayed as hallucinations, Philippa’s visions of Richard III sometimes provide Philippa with information she did not previously have, making the apparition more similar to a ghost. We hear discussion of churches, monasteries and friars. We also hear someone discuss the time when the Roman Catholic Church believed the printing press to be a “work of the devil.” We also see a depiction of Jesus on a cross.
When asked what would help Philippa achieve more recognition, she quips, “a penis.” After being asked to cancel time with a date to help Philippa watch the kids while she searches for Richard III, John says that he feels like he’s “being cuckolded by a ghost.” John kisses Philippa.
In a play, a man is stabbed to death. Philippa’s children go to see Skyfall and discuss the number of people who die in it (and, as a fair warning to those who haven’t seen it, they spoil part of the movie). People discuss whether Richard III actually murdered his nephews.
We hear one f-word and four s-words. “B–tard” is used three times, and “h—” is used once. We also hear the British vulgarities “bloody” and “bugger.” God’s name is used in vain three times.
People are seen drinking alcohol during a discussion group.
Other people attempt to (and do) take credit for Philippa’s work.
The Lost King is based on a true story. In late 2012, archaeologists discovered the remains of King Richard III, whose body had been lost for around 500 years. And while the discovery was huge, so too was the negative opinion of Richard III.
Philippa Langley begins her journey based on a feeling that the king has been unkindly remembered, painted as a villain during the Tudor period because of his hunchbacked condition. After all, she’s experienced similar treatment because of her chronic fatigue syndrome. In a way, she sees an element of herself within Richard III, and if she can clear his bad reputation, she might feel some vindication for herself.
The Lost King tells of Philippa’s journey to discover where Richard III’s remains are buried despite little support or interest from scholars, historians and archaeologists. And despite fighting an uphill battle, her persistence eventually leads to the monumentous discovery.
Prospective viewers of her story, however, should note that some heavy swearing is present. An apparition of Richard III guides Philippa on her journey, though the movie suggests it could either be a ghost or mental hallucination. We hear a couple sensual remarks. And it would be unfair of us not to note that the University of Leicester, which helped to fund Philippa’s dig, has objected to its negative portrayal in the film.
But many positive messages abound in the movie, too. We’re reminded to not disregard people based on the maladies with which they’re struggling. We see people sacrifice their money and desires to help Philippa. And we see an inspiring story about a woman persevering against all odds.
So, is The Lost King going to be a royal time? For fans of history, perhaps. At the very least, it’s certainly not going to, as Shakespeare put it in his play, “infect thine eyes.”
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”