Synopsis : In this inspiring true story, amateur historian Philippa Langley believes she has made the archeological find of the century: the lost burial site of King Richard III. She takes on Britain’s most eminent historians, forcing them to rethink the legacy of one of the most controversial rulers in English history.
Rating: PG-13 (Brief Suggestive References|Some Strong Language)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Original Language: English
Director: Stephen Frears
Producer: Steve Coogan, Christine Langan, Dan Winch, Wendy Griffin
Writer: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Release Date (Theaters): Limited
Release Date (Streaming):
Distributor: IFC Films
Exclusive interview with a real life model, Philippa Langley
Q: In the film, the members of The Richard III Society talk about how often people have a dim view of Richard III. But what are the key elements of your views on Richard III that led you on this wonderful exploration?
PL: The things that surprised me are the interest in Richard III, because when he was discovered, it absolutely went national — it went global: the news, “The King in the parking lot”. That surprised me because Richard died over 530 years ago. I thought there’d be some interest in Britain for sure. But it was definitely around the world, and weirdly, I even got an email from someone in Outer Mongolia.
Q: Even though this film was tackled by the Oscar nominated team from “Philomena” [writers Steven Coogan and Jeff Pope, with Martin Sixsmith (dir. Stephen Frears (2013)], this is your story. What kind of advice or input did you give them, and how much did it alter the story from the original book?
PL: They followed it quite closely, because we worked together for eight years. It took eight years to get the tarmac cut in Leicester, but it also took eight years to make the film. So I worked with Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for a long time. They wanted to see all of my materials, all of my original documents, emails, they wanted to speak to all of the eyewitnesses who were involved. We had a television documentary crew there, so they wanted to speak to them. With the book and all of the research that they did, it gave me a lot of comfort that they were checking everything. Everything was checked, triple-checked, before it went into the script. And that, I was really appreciative of.
Q: When you heard that Sally Hawkins would portray you, what did you think of it, and what was it about her performance that surprised you the most?
PL: I didn’t see someone of Sally Hawkins’ stature playing me. When they said that she was interested, that was a real “pinch me” moment, because I didn’t see that coming. It was pretty amazing, because she’s double-Oscar-nominated and all that. But what I love about her performance is she managed to get that vulnerability that I had, but also she portrayed that inner steel I have as well. That’s a very difficult combination to pull off, and I think she does it. She really does it really well.
Q: What’s amazing about this film is not just your great exploration, but your wonderful relationship with your ex-husband, John. How much did his support help you to go on this journey?
PL: A lot, an awful lot. You’re absolutely right. If I didn’t have his support, I don’t think I could have done it. Because we had two young boys and I was their mother, and I needed time. I needed to be able to travel to Leicester, I needed to be able to research things. So the fact that John said — it’s typical John — he just said “Do it.” And in fact, one of the things was when I lost the funding — after the dig was meant to be getting underway — I nearly gave up. I very nearly gave up. But he was the one who said “No, you can’t. You can’t give up now. You’ve done 99 percent of the work. It is always darkest before dawn.” He said “Try again. Get the money. See if you can get the money. But don’t stop.” So yeah, he was huge in helping me.
Q: The Queen gave you an MBE in recognition of your service in the exhumation and identification of Richard III. Even though you gathered all the funding, the University withdrew the funding with Richard Buckley (played by Mark Addy). Why is the University leading the search? Why were you excluded from the press conference?
PL: Yeah, the big press conference on February the 4th, 2013, where all the media were invited and the BBC was streaming it live. For them not to have me on the panel, that was really hard. That was really tough. And I think it was because I was an ordinary person. I wasn’t a doctor, I wasn’t a professor, and I wasn’t a member of the University. So it was tough because I really felt sidelined. The BBC cut the news feed before I spoke. They allowed me to speak right at the very end — I think I was the 13th of thirteen speakers to speak — but by then the news feed had been cut. That was really disappointing and difficult.
Q: In this film, your journey is very much like a self-discovery in a way, an ordinary woman in her 40’s, your boss gave a chance to younger staff, but you went on and made an amazing discovery. What kind of advice would you want to give to someone who feels stuck in their lives or can’t make any action yet?
PL: It really is [that] if you believe in something, don’t give in and don’t give up. Really just fight for it, because there’s going to be a lot of times when you get doors shut in your face, and a lot of times when people will dismiss you. But just find other doors to open and walk around those people. All I can say is, if you really believe in it and it feels right for you, then go for it and don’t give up. Definitely.
Q: You insisted on the coat of arms as a condition of the reburial of Richard III. Can you talk about that?
PL: It was hugely important because the people who had funded me — the Richard III Society members — had said “Search for him, find him, honor him.” Because they know from all of the research that we’ve done that he was a legal king, he was the true king. This was hugely important to me, because in England, if you pay somebody to do something, it’s a contract. So I had a mandate from them to honor him, and I knew I needed to because I needed to change perceptions of Richard from Shakespeare’s. But that was a really difficult battle. The reburial team behind the scenes, they didn’t know about the historical Richard III — or at least they thought they did, but they hadn’t been doing all of the research that we had. So we had to fight behind the scenes to get that done, and to get his coat of arms on his tomb monument. But we got there. It took two years, but we got there in the end.
Q: What do you think about the depiction of Richard III in this film? How much of the book was also reflected in this film?
PL: It was Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope who came to me, quite far in the process, and said “Look, we think we’ve got to have Richard in this story because otherwise the story is not going to make sense to the average public who don’t know about him.” I wasn’t sure how this would play, but when they showed me the script, I thought, okay, this works. Because they have the Shakespearean Richard at the start, but then they have the historical Richard in the story. So the Philippa character through Sally Hawkins can sort of talk to him and make her inner journey more known. I think it was the right way to do it; for me it really works. It really helps the film.
Q: Thank you.
Check out more of Nobuhiro’s articles.
Here’s the trailer of the film.