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Steve Coogan goes to war with his critics

Steve Coogan’s new comedy-drama movie The Lost King has ruffled feathers in British academia—and he’s glad it did.

Comedian Coogan co-wrote and stars in the The Lost King, a true story of how an ordinary woman initiated the search for the remains of King Richard III, and found them buried beneath a car park. Academy Award nominee Sally Hawkins stars as Philippa Langley, the woman who led the search, but was seemingly sidelined by local academics who took the credit for the discovery.

Coogan is best known to American audiences for his character Alan Partridge and his roles in the likes of The Other Guys, Tropic Thunder other the trip. for The Lost KingCoogan reunited with the same team (Stephen Frears and Jeff Pope) who he worked with on 2013’s Oscar-nominated Philomena.

Ahead of its US release, Newsweek spoke to Coogan to discuss his war of words with the University of Leicester, archaeologists and The Guardians newspaper.

The Lost King is centered around the remarkable 2012 story of how the remains of King Richard III—a much-maligned English monarch who died in battle in 1485—were found buried beneath a car park in the English city of Leicester.

The details surrounding how the body was discovered, and who deserves the credit, are up for debate. In The Lost Kingwriters Coogan and Pope make it clear they’re siding with Langley.

“We just wanted to tell a story that’s engaging, but it’s about something important. Deep waters, lightly skipped over, if you like,” Coogan—who plays Langley’s husband, John, in the film—told Newsweek.

“The main thrust of the story is that [King] Richard is a conduit for Philippa finding her voice, finding some strength, finding out who she is, and regaining her confidence in her life. Then coming up against those age-old behemoth institutions that behave… in a certain way.” Coogan added. “When an individual, or a small individual story doesn’t fit the narrative, they become collateral damage.”

After the release of The Lost King in the UK in 2022, academics at the University of Leicester and respected archaeologists spoke out against the way they were portrayed in the story. The crux of the argument stems from the academic community seemingly not giving Langley the credit she deserves, though they’ve said they did.

The University of Leicester’s Richard Taylor (played in the film by Lee Ingleby) told the BBC he was disappointed with how he appeared in the movie.

“I’m portrayed as kind of a bullying, cynical, double-crossing, devious manipulator which is bad, but then when you add to that I behave in a sexist way and a way that seems to mock Richard III’s disabilities, you start to get into the realm of defamation,” he said in October 2022.

Coogan, however, is glad The Lost King took institutions to task.

“We knew there’d be push back, we knew we’d get in trouble but that’s what makes it interesting.” Coogan said. “It was quite clear from the behavior, every term, that they marginalized and demonized Philippa. Even the guy that made the documentary King of the Car Park said she wasn’t cut from the right cloth.

“They didn’t know how to handle her. She hadn’t written any papers. She was an amateur, she just didn’t fit the bill as far as they were concerned.”

Coogan suggests that Langley’s own investigative work in finding Richard’s remains “exposed [academics’] own shortcomings,” which made them “embarrassed.”

“The only way to counter that embarrassment is by peddling this great untruth, which is that they led the search for Richard III, which they did not,” Coogan said. “Categorically, they didn’t.

“They came out all guns blazing because we exposed this. And all they could do was say, ‘How dare they! How dare they! How dare they!’

“I wasn’t shocked about the university reaction. What I was a bit shocked by was the middle class intellectuals, who immediately assumed that the academic institution must be telling the correct version of events and their version of the discovery must be absolutely true. “

“‘They couldn’t possibly distort things in their own interest,'” Coogan mocked. “I think this has a bit to do with the sort of snobbery and class that is cross political in the UK”

Newsweek has reached out to the University of Leicester for comment.

Coogan also took aim at prestigious British newspaper The Guardians.

Steve Coogan’s new comedy-drama movie The Lost King has ruffled feathers in British academia—and he’s glad it did.

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