Quick Synopsis: Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins) thinks she knows where the lost body of Richard III is buried, and is determined to prove it to an establishment that doesn’t believe her.
If I wrote this review the minute I left the cinema, it would have been more favourable. But now that time has passed, it’s soured my opinion on it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about it. You don’t walk out thinking you’ve wasted your time, but it doesn’t stay with you.
The cast is all good: Steve Coogan provides enough character without overshadowing the lead, and Mark Addy seems weirdly Reece Shearsmith. Sally Hawkins continues to be one of the best performers around. She is starting to run the risk of playing similar characters though. A lot of her biggest roles are now “slightly downtrodden mother who stands up to people”. There’s a reason for that though, she is so good at it. Her characters naturally have a slight fragility to them, and she has haunting eyes which make it easy to sympathise with her when things go against her. Plus she does a great “shakey scared voice”. But there’s not much in her performance that you haven’t seen before, as good as it is (and it is very good), it doesn’t feel unique to this film.
She’s not helped by some weird script choices, the “ghost” of Richard III has the usual Television Dream Ghost qualities, pointing out stuff she already knew. But then there are moments where it feels like he’s leading her places, and so that he does have sentience and independent thought. If they dialled down on that it would improve it somewhat, and make it feel like her character has more agency rather than “a ghost told me”.
Another misstep in the script is it plays out like we don’t know what happened. That may work overseas, but the discovery of his body was a big deal in the UK, so when the film does try to have the tension of “will they find it?”, it doesn’t feel true. We know he was found in a car park in Leicester, so there’s zero drama to the story. I know it’s in bad form to add things which weren’t there for dramatic purpose, but I feel this needed it. It needed a B-story that it could use for drama and suspense. At the very least it can stop pretending that we don’t know what happens.
I should point out that there is some controversy surrounding the other archeologists involved in the dig. They say they’re being labelled the villains in the story unfairly, and that in reality they were helpful. Which, considering the crux of the movie was “Richard III was unfairly made a villain by Shakespeare”, is kind of ironic.
In summary, this is fine. It’s a pleasant enough watch but I’m not sure I need to watch it again. It’s a standard British movie, for better and for worse. It will make you feel things while watching it, but you’ll be hard-pushed to remember that much about it a month down the line. That’s its biggest weakness: how disposable it is. It’s based on a true story, but they changed so much of it that it doesn’t really matter that much. They change so much of the true story that it doesn’t work as a “learn about what happened” piece. Films are supposed to change you, make you feel, and importantly, make you ask questions. But really the only feeling this gives you, is that you should watch a documentary about it instead. It also made me think of this song. Which is a plus, I suppose.