Review – Where For Art Thou, Richard? (“The Lost King”)

Based on the 2013 book, The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III by Phillipa Langley and Michael Jones, this incredible true story has been made into numerous BBC documentaries. As bizarre and strange as the story gets, it’s about a lonely housewife’s relentless pursuit of the truth.

In Edinburgh, England a nobody named Phillipa Langley (Sally Hawkins) just lost her job promotion at work. She blames the fact that she has ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome) or her boss just hired a prettier, younger-looking woman. But whatever the case, her ex-husband, John (Steve Coogan), and her two teenage boys could care less. Anyway, one night Phillipa goes to see Richard III at a local theater and becomes instantly enthralled and infatuated with the life of King Richard, as his tragic, dismal life reflects her own. Pretty soon, she becomes engaged with his life, even studying up on it and joining the local chapter of the Richard III Society which tantalizes her inner detective skills.

Taking time off work, she starts to dive deep into the King’s life, even seeing and conversing with his ghostly apparition (Harry Lloyd) that pops up now and again to talk to her! Her research intrigues many, including leading historian John Ashtown-Hill (James Fleet) who gives her a clue as to where Richard may be buried. Thinking she knows where, Philippa contacts University of Leicester archaeologist, Richard Buckley (Mark Addy), who dismisses her ideas, but when the University cuts his funding, he accepts her wild proposal; that he’s buried in the middle of a car park! The Leicester City Council initially gives her the funds to radar-search the grounds, then pulls out after nothing is found. BUT! After asking for donations from all the Richard III Society’s worldwide, it’s a go!

The car park is torn apart and bingo! Richard is found! However, Phillipa faces more troubles from the greedy, the usurpers, and the rat bastards who want their 15 minutes. Yeah, this really happened (I’ve seen the BBC doc on the History Channel) and screenwriters Steve Coogan (Philomena, The Trip) and Jeff Pope (Stan & Ollie) have crafted a well-told story that, even though you know how it eventually turns out, keeps you feeling for Phillipa and her plight. It’s really her story and the writers don’t forget this as she is shown as a virtuous, caring, tenacious woman who just wants to be heard. Of course, the addition of Richard III’s ghost showing up for her to talk to is a nice touch, if not a bit silly.

But the one thing that makes this movie really work (apart from the direction) is the bravura performance of Sally Hawkins. She is the heart & soul of this movie and, if you saw her in The Shape of Water, you know she commands the screen with very little effort. Her frailty and broken soul gets filled by her passion and obsession for a just cause and Hawkins just nails it. Coogan is wonderful (as usual) as her complex ex-hubby and Addy is great as the waffling archaeologist. Director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, Victoria & Abdul) almost treats this like a murder mystery (judging from the intense Hitchcock-like soundtrack) and it works. Actually, with a few tweaks here and there, this could have been a damn good thriller! With all the other movies out now, do yourself a favor and check this one out, even if you’ve seen the documentary!

**Now showing only in theaters 

Looking For Richard (1996)

“My horse! My horse! My kingdom for a horse. . . who–aaah!” Does Al Pacino like Shakespeare? Not only has he starred in a few stage shows (Merchant of Venice, Richard III), but he also parodied himself performing Richard III (and taking a cellphone call while on stage!) in Adam Sadler’s horrible movie, Jack and Jill.

In this unusual film that is two-parts documentary, and one-part staged footage of cut scenes of Richard III, Pacino’s friends and colleagues take us on a journey into the world of Shakespeare, as he attempts to deconstruct the Bard’s classic tragedy. Told in a shot-gun, haphazard, guerrilla-style filmmaking, Pacino and his buddy, actor, writer, and producer Fredrick Kimball, go on a delirious journey in NYC to bring Richard III to the masses and make it more accessible. They do this in various ways: first, by walking down the streets of the Big Apple and conducting interviews with people who have (or have not) seen Shakespeare, and also scouting out locations for their upcoming mini-movie.

Second, they interview noted actors (Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, James Earl Jones, etc) and get their views on Shakespeare. Third, a table reading for their upcoming mini-movie with a host of great actors (Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder, Estelle Parsons, F. Murray Hamilton), and getting their take on Shakespeare. We also see Pacino attempting to teach some confused college students, doing some rehearsals with Frederick, and interviews with a few noted NYC scholars who give their opinions on Shakespeare and what he was trying to get across with his play. Then, to cap it all off, Pacino and his company of actors dress up in lavish costumes and reenact some key scenes of Richard III.

Okay, now take all of that, chop it up in a blender, and blindly edit it all together like you were drunk off your ass. That’s what you get with this crazy, entertaining, and seriously interesting movie that was obviously a vanity project for Pacino since he co-wrote, co-produced, and directed it. Pacino is so much fun to watch as he navigates NYC with his friends, jabbering on about Shakespeare, talking with strangers, and taking a simple line from Richard III and going nuts trying to figure out its meaning. But Pacino is constantly upstaged by Kimball, a walking encyclopedia of all accumulated knowledge on planet Earth. This pretentious guy takes Shakespeare way too seriously as, at one point, he gets into a shouting match with Pacino over a trivial interpretation of a line reading! Geez, dude, chill out!

It looks less like a documentary and more like Pacino’s home movies at some point, however when they film the serious Richard III parts, it’s quite good and the acting is excellent. No wonder Pacino revels in this stuff; when it’s done right, it’s magnificent, and Pacino tears into Richard like he was going for an Oscar. Once you can get past the bonkers editing and chaotic filmmaking, you’ll have a good time watching a bunch of great actors doing what they do best. And hey, you might get an education, too! Whoo–aah!!      

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