Home > Reviews > THE LOST KING – Alexandre Desplat

THE LOST KING – Alexandre Desplat

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

On August 22, 1485, the English king Richard III was killed at Bosworth Field, in what was the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses, the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York over the fate of the British crown. Richard’s death at the age of 32 marked the end of his Plantaganet dynasty, while his conqueror became King Henry VII, and established the Tudor dynasty that resulted in the subsequent reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. What’s interesting is that, for more than 500 years, the exact whereabouts of Richard’s remains were unknown, until 2012 when an archaeological dig was commissioned, and his skeleton was finally unearthed beneath a car park in the city of Leicester. This new film, The Lost King, tells the story of how a dedicated group of professional archaeologists and enthusiastic amateurs came together to find and pay final respects to this somewhat unfairly maligned king; the film stars Sally Hawkins, Steve Coogan, and Harry Lloyd, and is directed by Stephen Frears.

The score for The Lost King is by composer Alexandre Desplat, and marks the sixth collaboration between himself and Frears, after The Queen in 2006, Chéri in 2009, Tamara Drewe in 2010, Philomena in 2013, and Florence Foster Jenkins in 2016. Frears has great taste in music – not only has he worked with Desplat several times, but his earlier collaborators include multiple works by George Fenton – and The Lost King very much continues that trend. Interestingly, Desplat often approaches the score as if he were scoring a Hitchcockian thriller, resulting in music which is often quite serious and intense, and is filled with a sense of dramatic purpose that mirrors the tenaciousness and dedication shown by Philippa Langley, the main character, in her quest to find Richard’s remains. Then at other times the score is sprightly, charming, and jaunty, capturing both the quirky nature of the entire quest itself, and Philippa’s upbeat personality as she navigates various bureaucratic minefields to uncover the past.

However, the film offers Desplat an interesting twist by way of the fact that King Richard himself – or, at least, Philippa’s idea of him – appears as a sort of ghostly apparition in Philippa’s subconscious, encouraging her to continue her journey to find his mortal remains. To accompany these visits from Richard’s ghost Desplat wrote music inspired by the English Middle Ages, and solicited performances by James Bramley and Jill Kemp from the Academy of Ancient Music, to complement the palette of the London Symphony Orchestra. Bramley plays a theorbo – a sort of medieval lute – while Kemp performs recorders, and these are augmented by various historical percussion items, all of which come together to create an interesting sound that is intended to represent the music Richard might have heard when he was alive. The combination of these three elements – contemporary orchestral drama mixed with wry light comedy for Philippa, plus the medieval textures for King Richard – is what ultimately drives the score.

The opening cue “The Lost King” is unexpectedly rambunctious, a spirited collision of orchestra, church organ, delicate percussion items, and the ancient music soloists, all passing a jolly rhythmic motif around between themselves. Tonally, it’s sort of a mix between Philomena and The Ghost Writer, straddling the line between amusing and serious in an excellent way.

“To Prove a Villain” introduces the recurring theme for Richard himself, a delicate and slightly melancholy piece led by a solo harp that eventually melts into a lovely statement for solo piano and soft strings. This theme offers a more sympathetic portrayal of Richard than we are used to hearing; the character we have come to know over the centuries is the one from Shakespeare – that of a malicious hump-backed villain who used the crown for personal gain, and mistreated his subjects mercilessly. Of course, Shakespeare was very much influenced by the prejudices and the prevailing wisdom of the time he lived – he was born in 1564 during the reign of Elizabeth I – and so the truth of Richard III is likely to be much more complex and nuanced than that. As such, the way Desplat musically characterizes him here is more in line with Philippa’s agreeable personal view of him. Subsequent cues like “The Ricardians,” “Greyfriars,” and “Digging the R” offer reprises of and variations on Richard’s theme that are very satisfying, with the latter also reprising the tempestuous percussion writing and flamboyant church organs of the opening cue.

Cues like the bold and occasionally quite dramatic “City’s Archives,” the more whimsical “Leicester,” the playfully mysterious “Empty Bench,” and the jocular and almost circus-like “The Next Morning” are intriguing. There are hints of The Golden Compass and the Harry Potter scores in some of the orchestral arrangements and percussion patterns, which is of course a good thing, and when Desplat combines these strident outbursts with the theorbo and the recorders, the result is outstanding. Furthermore, cues like “Greyfriars” and “New Street” also focus strongly on the medieval recorders and drums; never has a road running through a car park been so dramatically rendered in music.

One thing I again must mention is the depth and intricacy of the orchestrations by Desplat and his usual team comprising Jean-Pascal Beintus, Nicolas Charron, and Sylvain Morizet. There is so much going on in terms of the instrumental palette throughout the score – the way the music passes between the different parts of the string section, the use of chimes and glockenspiel and metallic items in the percussion, the pitch of the high flutes dancing over the top, the way the structure and rhythms of the cues are constantly changing, the way it is recorded so you can hear all of it in crystalline clarity. This sound is vintage Desplat, and it’s wonderful to hear it back at the forefront of things after what feels like a significant period away. Listen especially to cues like “National Library,” which are absolutely fascinating from this point of view; the sound is so rich, so complex, endlessly captivating, offering so many different shades of emotional content, from light comedy, to brooding mystery, and more. I love it.

The finale of the score represents the triumph of Philippa and her colleagues finding Richard’s body, the vindication of their years of efforts in the face of red tape and ridicule, and the final appropriate recognition of King Richard III’s life, reign, and death. “The Boar” uses the theorbo and the recorders in a prancing, jaunty, strident way, and builds to a dramatic and revelatory orchestral finale full of intrigue and sentiment. The twittering woodwinds and the constantly shifting motifs that pass between pianos and strings in “We Found Richard” have a breathlessness to them, like the final moments of a task you can’t wait to end, while the brief statement of Richard’s harp theme is almost romantic.

“Farewell Richard” is initially bittersweet, a musical sigh of relief, but it gradually builds into the score’s most emotionally satisfying statement of Richard’s theme, respectful and dignified and fit for a king. The conclusive “Bosworth” is unexpectedly solemn and a little downbeat, lamenting for Richard’s fate as he meets his tragic end on the muddy fields of Leicestershire, as Desplat’s theme resounds in the horns.

The Lost King represents a triumphant return to form for Alexandre Desplat after what feels like several years away. For me, this is his best score since Little Women at the end of 2019, a confident and striking combination of orchestral lyricism, warm-hearted optimism, and poignant reflection, combined with some tasteful acknowledgements of the music from the Middle Ages. Richard III is perhaps England’s most misunderstood and unfairly disparaged monarch, but through the efforts of people like Philippa Langley, and now Stephen Frears and Desplat, perhaps we can put some of those historical misconceptions into a different context.

Buy the Lost King soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Lost King (2:56)
  • To Prove a Villain (3:13)
  • City’s Archives (3:26)
  • Leicester (2:17)
  • The Ricardians (1:44)
  • Greyfriars (1:04)
  • National Library (4:30)
  • New Street (3:00)
  • Empty Bench (3:03)
  • The Maps (3:18)
  • The Next Morning (2:03)
  • Digging The R (2:03)
  • The Boar (3:53)
  • We Found Richard (3:10)
  • Farewell Richard (2:45)
  • Bosworth (3:02)

Running Time: 45 minutes 21 seconds

Lakeshore Records (2022)

Music composed and conducted by Alexandre Desplat. Orchestrations by Alexandre Desplat, Jean-Pascal Beintus, Nicolas Charron and Sylvain Morizet. Recorded and mixed by Jonathan Allen. Edited by Gerard McCann. Album produced by Alexandre Desplat.

  1. Benjamin Stock
    October 7, 2022 at 8:20 am

    How long did it take you to write this review? I’ve been reading your blog since 2019, and I’ve never seen a review go up so close to the time of a soundtrack release.
    I’m impressed.

    • October 7, 2022 at 9:17 am

      Thank you! It took me about three or four hours last night. Lakeshore sent me a promo a couple of days early so I’ve been listening to it since then.

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