You really wouldn’t have to say much more to me than “Sally Hawkins,” but when I saw previews for this film she stars in about an incident I remember well, I couldn’t wait! And it did not disappoint. For centuries, the memories of England’s King Richard III have been shaped by Shakespeare’s wonderful play, but there have been doubts . . .
He was writing during the Tudor era, and the Tudors (Henry VII) had wrested the throne from Richard, the last of the Plantagenet kings, by defeating him in battle. “A horse! A Horse! My kingdom for a horse!” famously says the unseated king. Shakespeare had to hew the ruling dynasty’s political line here. And did.
The movie was directed by master storyteller Stephen Frears and written by him and Jeff Pope (trailer). Along with Hawkins, it stars Steve Coogan as Hawkins’s husband and Harry Lloyd as Richard III. Hawkins, as Philippa Langley, embarks on an impossible quest. Her husband has left her, her job is unbearable, and she suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which makes it hard to do much. But she sees a production of Richard III that really touches her. Was he really so bad or just misunderstood? She embarks on a quest to find out.
Introduced to the myths and mysteries surrounding Richard, she becomes consumed with a desire to find where he’s buried. Tradition holds that his body was dumped in the River Soar in Leicester, a city in England’s East Midlands. But Philippa finds scattered reference to a burial in the town’s Greyfriars Church, long since demolished.
Aiding her in her quest is King Richard himself, who appears to her (and only to her) occasionally, encouraging her on. They talk. Hawkins is perfectly cast as this tentative, but determined woman whom everyone sells short, except Richard himself. She has a brilliant way of simultaneously portraying vulnerability and strength.
Not only is it interesting, with some bureaucratic villains with all-too-familiar personalities, knowing it’s based on the true story of an amateur investigator’s triumph over hidebound historians unwilling to ask questions is quite satisfying. (You’ll loathe the university hacks.) Loved it!
(Richard en route to his new burial site, 2015.)