Along with millions, I was mesmerised last night by Channel 4’s brilliant documentary about the archaeological dig in that Leicester car park. As the bits of the skeleton emerged, with the twisted spinal column and dainty limbs, I waited with bated breath for the face.
Eventually it was revealed, to an immediate sigh of relief from Philippa Langley, originator of the search, whose Richard III Society argues against the mainstream history that has the King as a villain who killed the young Princes and committed many other calumnies.
“It doesn’t look like the face of a tyrant. I’m sorry but it doesn’t. He’s very handsome. It’s like you could just talk to him, have a conversation with him right now,” she said. And the historians present all fell into line – as, I suspect, did most of the audience.
I am not weighing in on the historical dispute but I fear that, yet again, we are falling into the trap of judging someone by their face. He does indeed look like a soft young man with sensibilities – but why assume that he could not also be malicious?
This stereotype of the villain as hunchback with a scarred and scowling face has been immensely damaging down the years to anyone with an unusual face. It should certainly not allow the re-writing of history.
On another note, in the real life of today, I am horrified by the continuing use of acid to scar and de-beautify – as a means of reducing the life chances of a young woman by disfiguring her face. My heart goes out to Naomi Oni.
I am sure that, in time, she will join the hundreds of us who are out there disproving this age-old stereotyping that can still diminish the life prospects of so many.