After the success of their Oscar-nominated collaboration on the 2013 drama “Philomena,” starring Judi Dench, director Stephen Frears and star-screenwriter Steve Coogan were eager to team up once again — similarly this time on a true-life-inspired tale about amateur sleuthing.
“The Lost King” tells the story of Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins), a self-guided historian who seemingly stumbles upon the remains of Richard III, only to be thwarted by various forces that doubt her discovery, much of them in academia.
Frears and Coogan stopped by TheWrap and Shutterstock’s Interview and Portrait Studio at the Toronto International Film Festival to discuss what drew them to work together on this unique project, which also rejoined them with “Philomena” composer Alexandre Desplat, co-writer Jeff Pope and producer Christine Langan.
“You’re always on the lookout to tickle Stephen’s fancy,” Coogan said. “I had lunch with Philippa eight years ago and knew the bare bones — forgive the pun — of the story. But then she gave me her version, which was much more compelling, with unexpected twists and turns.”
They both knew they’d need a dynamic female lead to navigate the heroine’s journey of the underestimated Philippa, who conjures up Richard III in her mind’s eye — a figment of imagination played by Harry Lloyd. Hawkins is no stranger to making unusual screen characters come to life.
“I’d seen her in the film where she fell in love with the aquatic alien, a fish,” Frears said. (“‘The Shape of Water,'” Coogan interjected.) “Well, if she can fall in love with a fish, she can fall in love with a dead king,” Frears continued, laughing.
“There’s an eccentricity about Sally which is similar to Philippa’s,” added Coogan, who plays Philippa’s ex-partner. “She had an oddness about her. She really captured her essence.”
“It’s a feminist film,” Frears added. (The director has made several films with tough women at their center: Anjelica Huston in “The Grifters,” Glenn Close in “Dangerous Liaisons,” as well as his many collaborations with Dench, which also include “Mrs. Henderson Presents” and “Victoria & Abdul.”)
Frears and Coogan debuted their film at an oddly prescient time, given that Queen Elizabeth’s passing happened in the same week as the “Lost King” premiere. The film is somewhat critical of the British royal family, which has a complicated relationship to the hotly-debated merits and behavior of Richard III. Let’s not forget that Frears also directed “The Queen” in 2006, in which Helen Mirren famously portrayed Elizabeth II in an Oscar-winning performance.
“All my life I’ve been very skeptical about the monarchy, but at the same time, have had enormous affection,” Frears said. “It’s such a complicated, double-layered feeling.”
“She’s subjugated herself to the service of Great Britain,” Coogan said. “But it was sort of a gilded cage, really, that she lived in for 70 years of being Queen — not the life I would have envied, but she put the hours in and commands universal respect for that.”
For the full conversation about “The Lost King,” click on the video above.
Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.