When a skeleton was reported found under a Leicester council car park last September, the news broke around the world. Could these be the remains, lost for 500 years, of our most infamous king? Now, in a world exclusive, Channel 4 has the full inside story of the hunt for Richard III.
The discovery of the body and the battery of scientific tests to establish its identity have been carried out in complete secrecy and to date, no footage of them has been seen by anyone but the investigating team. But this programme - made by the only team allowed to follow the scientists - tells every step, twist and turn of the story. It unveils a brand new facial reconstruction made from the skull and - in scenes to be shot just hours before broadcast - reveals the results of the final tests that will confirm or deny the body's identity.
Richard III's claims to infamy are many: he was the last king to die in battle - his death at the Battle of Bosworth, where he was said to be dragged from his horse and struck on the head with a poleaxe - effectively ended the Wars of the Roses. Thus resulting in a Tudor dynasty lasting more than a century. He has long been connected to the disappearance of his young nephews - the ‘Princes in the Tower' - and his repulsive depiction as a hunchback villain in William Shakespeare's play 'Richard III' is probably his most recognisable representation.
This film, presented by actor and writer Simon Farnaby, charts the remarkable detective story that led to the dig. Screenwriter and member of the Richard III Society Philippa Langley has spent the last three years on a personal quest to uncover the remains of the Franciscan friary of Greyfriars where she believes he was hastily buried after the battle. Driven by a burning sense of injustice on behalf of his widely-accepted negative portrayal as one of the most reviled Kings of England and a desire to reclaim his reputation, for Philippa, finding his body could disprove he was a hunchback and expose Shakespeare's play as Tudor spin and propaganda.
With the support of historians, the University of Leicester's archaeologists identified a possible location of the monastery as the car park for Leicester City Council's Social Services department. However as Richard Buckley, Head of the University of Leicester's Archaeology Services tells the programme: "...the chance of finding Richard was, I don't know, a million to one." Yet the dig commenced and on the very first day a male skeleton was discovered - which careful examination would later reveal to have curvature of the spine and battle injuries including a head wound.
For the last three months, the remains has been subjected to some of the most cutting edge technology and forensic testing in existence - with Channel 4 capturing every moment. In specialist labs in Leicester and across the country, the bones have been subjected to CT scans, they have been carbon-dated, DNA has been extracted to be compared to that of one his living descendants, the source of the spinal curvature has been investigated - and the entire body has been subjected to rigorous testing to reveal blow-by-blow how this individual died and how he was buried.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, using technology developed to identify human remains in crime investigations, scientists have been busily re-creating the face these bones belong to - this image will be revealed exclusively in the programme the night it airs. And of course, Richard III: The King in the Car Park will reveal the results of what could be one of the most astonishing archaeological discoveries in recent history - whether England's missing king has indeed been recovered.
Prod/Dir: Louise Osmond
Exec Prod: Simon Young, Julian Ware
Prod Co: Darlow Smithson
Comm Eds: Ralph Lee, Julia Harrington & John Hay