Steve Coogan talks The Lost King

Sally Hawkins as “Philippa Langley” and Steve Coogan as “John Langley” in Stephen Frears’ THE LOST KING. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

Oscar-nominated/BAFTA-winning screenwriter Steve Coogan spoke with Solzy at the Movies about The Lost King, an upcoming IFC Films release.

Coogan reunites with his Philomena co-screenwriter Jeff Pope to pen the script for The Lost King. It’s a Philomena reunion all around because Stephen Frears handles directing duties behind the camera. This time around, it’s another feel-good story as Sally Hawkins portrays Philippa Langley, an amateur historian investigating the burial location of King Richard III. Coogan stars alongside Hawkins as Philippa’s husband, John. It’s a stranger-than-fiction true story–after 500 years, the king’s remains were discovered under a parking lot in 2012. Even though family, friends, and academics were skeptical, Langley kept at her search. She wouldn’t be ignored and today, the film shines a new light on King Richard III, however controversial he might be.

The film premiered last September during TIFF at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. IFC Films acquired the North American right a few weeks prior to the world premiere. Coogan, Pope, and Frears were on hand for the world premiere, which came as the United Kingdom was mourning the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Lost King is now playing in theaters.

Theatrical poster for The Lost King
Theatrical poster for Stephen Frears’ THE LOST KING. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

It’s so good to see you again.

Steve Coogan: Hi, Danielle. How you doing?

I’m doing well. Yourself?

Steve Coogan: Very good. Very good. Thank you. Yeah.

I saw The Lost King during TIFF and thought it was such a stranger-than-fiction tale. How did you first hear about Richard III’s remains being found in a car park?

Steve Coogan: Well, it was all over the news in the UK. There were lots of them—it was quite seismic. There was a documentary called The King in the Car Park, which I watched. But yeah, that’s how I heard about it. I got in touch with Philippa. I had lunch with her and said, I want to make a film about your story.

How involved was Philippa Langley in the writing process?

Steve Coogan: Not very involved. We did use it as both a researcher, when it came to facts about Richard III that she had and also, we interviewed her a couple of times, asked her about her experience, what had happened to her. But then, we also interviewed several academics and other people were connected with the story. That’s how we arrived at our screenplay. She was always on hand but she didn’t sit there in the writing room of us.

What were some of the challenges that came with writing the script and bringing it to the screen?

Steve Coogan: Well, trying to tell a story about Richard III, you hope some people know him. You try to educate them about who he was very quickly in a film. Try and bring him to life, which we do physically, which also helps us manifest her thoughts when she talks to Richard and trying to make that seem not trivial because she did say she would sometimes have imaginary conversations with Richard. We felt like we were honoring that. But yes, trying to make it mote along, so make it half like a detective story and to try and find the thrust of what it was. We decided in the end, it was really this invisible, overlooked, middle-aged woman is looking for something but she finds the voice that she’s been denied and then sort of cruelly has defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by a huge academic institution. The challenge really is telling that story in a way that’s engaging.

What’s the reception been like since the film opened in the UK several months ago?

Steve Coogan: We got some good reviews, we got some mixed. The only mix were the ones that decided—because we got a big a very negative reaction from the university, which we expected because we give them a kicking in the film, deservedly so, I’d say. They didn’t react very well to it, which we expected. Some of the newspapers aligned themselves to the university and saw it as some sort of binary choice—that you’re either on the side of the movie or the side of the academics. It’s caused a bit of a stir, but not one that was unwelcome. There’s only one thing worse than being talked about, as Oscar Wilde said, and that’s not being talked about. So yeah, it was good. The reaction we got was pretty good across the board, really pleased with the film. It takes an interesting story and brings it to life.

I thought Sally Hawkins was phenomenal. What was it like to see her working every day?

Steve Coogan: It was great. She honored the real Philippa. She captured her spirit perfect. Well, she looks a little different, but she certainly captured the essence of this put upon woman, the way she feels like she’s almost self-potentially self-sabotaging and despite her insecurities and a sense of weaknesses, she transcends them and finds this inner strength and she does that brilliantly.

After getting an Oscar nomination for Philomena, how do you stay grounded?

Steve Coogan: (Laughs) I didn’t work on one. I got a nomination. Well, I got two nominations. I’ve won a few BAFTAs. I just take a very workman-like approach to writing. I like to get down and dirty. I like to have a good old tussle with another writer about how to resolve things. My approach to writing is, you should pretend it’s the first day you’ve ever written and that you don’t really know anything but that you should not assume that you have insights, you have to find it every time. And also, when you’re young and you’re writing, you feel this energy and excitement—that’s a pioneering feeling that you have when you’re young and trying to keep that by imagining that I’m still starting out and I got to prove myself.

Thank you so much, and congrats again on the film.

Steve Coogan: Thanks a bunch.

IFC Films releases The Lost King in theaters on March 24, 2023.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.