Philippa Langley on search for Richard III's remains: 'It was the right thing to do'

The extraordinary story of how Langley discovered the king's body is chronicled in the film, "The Lost King," now on DVD and Blu-ray.

Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan star in "The Lost King." Photo courtesy of IFC Films
1 of 4 | Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan star in "The Lost King." Photo courtesy of IFC Films

NEW YORK, May 30 (UPI) -- Philippa Langley, the amateur historian who discovered British King Richard III's remains under a Leicester parking lot in 2012, says the Steve Coogan-Sally Hawkins drama, The Lost King, gets her story right.

"She found that inner steel that I do have, but also that fragility," Langley told UPI about Hawkins' performance.


"I was a fish out of water here. I wasn't a doctor or a professor, and I was trying to get this project off the ground," she said. "She portrays both sides of that really well."

Available on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday, the film by The Queen and A Very English Scandal director Stephen Frears is an adaptation of Langley's non-fiction book, The King's Grave: The Search for Richard III.


Coogan, who plays Langley's estranged husband, and Stan & Ollie scribe Jeff Pope wrote the screenplay for the fact-based film.

"They drilled down into everything that I was telling them about. They wanted to see my original materials, documents, emails -- and we had a television documentary crew there the whole time, so they wanted to speak to them and get eyewitness testimony," Langley said.

"I think that gave me a lot of comfort in the process. They were so focused on making sure that they crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's."

The film follows Langley, the mother of two young sons in Edinburgh, as she becomes fascinated by how different the true history of the real medieval monarch Richard III was compared to the villain William Shakespeare painted him as in his famous stage play.

"When you read the contemporary materials from his own lifetime ... you can see a man who is loyal, brave, devout and just," Langley said.

"You have this overwhelming evidence everywhere for who he was and I just couldn't understand if we have all this evidence of who this man was, why are we always holding up Shakespeare's story?"


Langley's research also coincided with her battle with the chronic fatigue syndrome, a medically mysterious malady that drained her physically.

"It was hard, but I think my belief in it was so solid and so focused," she said.

"I can't express this, but I just felt it was the right thing to do and it was the time to do it. I just knew it was what I had to do, no ifs, no buts. I just had to make it happen and if doors closed, I had to find new doors to open."

It was exhausting at times, especially the many trips she had to make from Edinburgh to Leicester.

"I had to sleep bank for about three days before I went to Leicester," she said, adding in real life she didn't tell people she with whom was working in Leicester about her condition for fear they wouldn't think she was up to the job, even though she looked perfectly fine.

She thinks attitudes are changing now toward illnesses like hers, in part because so many people have endured long COVID.

"People are now realizing it very much is a real disease," Langley said. "Scientists are now really looking into it."


Langley's dogged research into who Richard III truly was and where his remains might have been 500 years after he died taught her a lot about how history is written and how the world of academia operates.

In the book and the film, Langley's contributions to the discovery of Richard III's body are eclipsed by University of Leicester officials, who swoop in at the last minute take most of the credit.

"It's told me that whoever gets in with a story first, that becomes history. There's not much real challenging -- in terms of this particular era -- of history done," she said.

"In terms of the search for Richard in the parking lot, most of the majority of the big historians said that Richard was in the River Soar because it fitted with the Shakespearean portrayal of him."

Through her website, Langley hears from young people who want to be historians and cast fresh gazes on old stories that might not be accurate.

"Whatever part of history they start investigating, they are going to make their own discoveries," she said.

"It's not easy for them because a lot of the older historians can be quite bullying and quite threatening and, basically, they tell them: 'It's not your job to change what's been written. It's your job to find new ways to say the same things.' I tell them the opposite."


A really important message the film offers is to trust your instincts and don't let people patronize you because of them, she said.

"There's a greater understanding now that there are more things that we know and that there is something called intuition," she added.

"We don't fully understand it yet, but it is definitely there."

Leicester University has released a statement, saying the filmmakers declined its offer of help with the movie and alleging inaccuracies in the way the story was told.

"We appreciate that while The Lost King is based on real events, it is a work of fiction, and recollections will vary from various people of what happened during such an incredibly exciting moment in history," the statement said.

"It is our view that the portrayal of the University of Leicester's role in the project is far removed from the accurate work that took place. We worked closely with Philippa Langley throughout the project, and she was not sidelined by the university.

"Indeed, she formed part of the team interview panel for every single press conference connected to the King."

Langley called the statement "factually inaccurate and wholly misleading."

"They totally forget that we had a documentary film crew there the whole time and these are the people that Steve and Jeff talked to and got witness statements from," she said.


"They've always been a little bit bullying. I hope they learn from this," she added. "I hope they change, but I hope there is never another Philippa Langley. I hope that if an ordinary person pitches up at a powerful institution that they'll work with them and all have their moment."

She pointed to the fact that while she found the bones, she didn't do the scientific analysis on them.

"That was the university. It's a great story and we've all got a space in this story," she said.

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