Steve Coogan and makers of The Lost King sued by academic over his portrayal in the film

<span>Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan in The Lost King.</span><span>Photograph: Warner Bros/Graeme Hunter</span>
Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan in The Lost King.Photograph: Warner Bros/Graeme Hunter

A former deputy registrar of the University of Leicester is suing the makers of the 2022 film The Lost King, claiming it presented him as “dismissive, patronising and misogynistic”.

Richard Taylor was played by Lee Ingleby in the film, which is about the discovery of the remains of Richard III in a car park in Leicester in 2012, more than 500 years after his death. At a hearing in London on Thursday, Taylor’s barrister, William Bennett KC, asserted that his client was portrayed as “devious”, “weasel-like” and a “suited bean-counter”.

Taylor, who left the university in 2013, is shown in the film as antagonistic towards amateur historian Philippa Langley, played by Sally Hawkins, who spearheads the dig and is sidelined by the academic community when they seek to take credit for the discovery.

Langley’s husband is played by Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope. The film was directed by Stephen Frears, who collaborated with Coogan and Pope on the 2013 film Philomena. Taylor is suing the film-makers, as well as production company Baby Cow and distributors Pathe.

In written submissions, Bennett said: “The relevant context is the good versus bad narrative, which runs through the film.

“Ms Langley is portrayed as the gutsy underdog heroine struggling against opposition and the claimant as the arrogant villain.

“He not only takes steps to make sure that people do not know about her role, but takes the credit, which was rightfully hers, for himself and the university.”

Bennett continued: “It’s a straightforward, plot-driven film where everything that is said and done matters.” He later said that Taylor was portrayed as “mocking” Richard III’s disability and “linking physical deformity with wickedness or moral failings”.

In a statement after the release of the film, the University of Leicester contended a number of aspects of the film, including Taylor’s portrayal, saying that it “does not in any way resemble the reality during this period … Our records point to a colleague engaging constructively, collegiately, fairly and professionally throughout the project.”

In October 2022, Taylor told the BBC: “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.”

Andrew Caldecott KC, representing Baby Cow and Pathe, said in written submissions: “It is a feature film, not a documentary. It would be clear to the ordinary reasonable viewer that the film is not a documentary, it is a dramatisation of events. The concept of fictional films based on real events is not a new one.”

Related: ‘I had goosebumps!’ – the finder of Richard III’s remains in a car park is celebrated in a Steve Coogan film

Caldecott said the film states it was “based on a true story”, adding: “It is not a literal portrayal of exact words … and would be understood as putting forward Ms Langley’s perception.”

He denied that Taylor is shown as misogynist in the film, adding his “concern is about Ms Langley’s amateur status and lack of historical expertise, and not her gender”.

Caldecott continued: “Whilst the film is clearly strongly critical of Mr Taylor and the university for sidelining Ms Langley at the dig and after the discovery of the body and not giving her sufficient credit, his clear motive is to exploit the discovery to further the university’s commercial interests.

“No reasonable viewer would conclude that his motive was sexism or misogynism.”

Caldecott added that Taylor was not portrayed as mocking Richard III’s disability, “and certainly not mocking disabled people in general”.

At the time of release, the film-makers responded to the University of Leicester and Taylor’s objection by saying: “The university’s version of events has been extensively documented over the past 10 years. Philippa’s recollection of events, as corroborated by the film-makers’ research, is very different.”

In June 2023, the university appeared to have toned down its claims about the extent of its involvement in the discovery. In a press release about the university’s growth, pro-vice chancellor Philip Baker said: “We were involved with the successful unearthing, identification and reinterment of Richard III and now we’re leading the Dickens Code project to decipher the author’s shorthand texts.”

The University had previously said it “led the search” for Richard III’s remains. Taylor is now chief operating officer at Loughborough University. His biography on that university’s website says he “was one of the prime leaders behind the successful search for King Richard III’s remains”.