Broadcast on the night of the announcement — that the skeleton found in that Leicester car park really was that of Richard III — the conclusion is no surprise, but the story is genuinely fascinating.
We are introduced to Philippa Langley, of the Richard III Society, the person who was instrumental in getting the dig started in the first place, juggling Leicester city council, University of Leicester archaeologists, and funding shortfalls to do so. Her mission is to reveal the real man behind the Tudor myths of a disfigured tyrant.
There is also a comedian/actor Simon Farnaby, because there is a certain kind of British documentary that cannot be broadcast without a comedian-slash-actor present, to interpret the incomprehensible mutterings of historians and osteoarchaeologists for us plebs with a merry quip and a loathsome jest.
Philippa comes across as a bit…eccentric, shall we say? When she stands in the car park before the dig begins and is taken by some mystical intuition that she is standing on Richard’s grave, I wanted to yell through the TV, “Philippa, the ‘R’ just means ‘Reserved’!!”.
But what do I know, because they found a skeleton there. On the first day of the dig.
“I am quite excited, because that appears to be a hole in the skull,” says Simon.
“Yeah, that’s not an old hole, that’s a hole that’s been there for ten minutes…” replies osteoarchaeologist Dr. Appleby, a dab hand with a mattock.
But when further excavation showed that the skeleton had a curved spine, Philippa had to sit down — and so would I, if I hadn’t been sprawled on the couch at the time.
If you can forgive the sometimes-slow pace (and knowing the end before you start, of course), it’s an enthralling story — showing that sometimes it takes someone with a seemingly harebrained idea to reveal the truth; and that the truth, once revealed, isn’t always exactly what you expected.
The documentary is available on 4od for those in the UK and Ireland; if you’re not, try checking lovefilm.com, or a proxy server may be your friend.