The Duke (12A)
The Duke (12A)
Director: Roger Michell
Runtime: 94 minutes
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead, Matthew Goode, Anna Maxwell Martin
Synopsis: THE DUKE is a funny and moving true story that celebrates a man who was determined to change the world and save his marriage. In 1961, Kempton Bunton, a 60-year-old taxi driver, stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery. It was the first and only theft in the Gallery’s history. Kempton sent ransom notes promising to return the painting if the government invested more in care for the elderly. What happened next is the stuff of legend.
This beautifully realised and uplifting story of an ordinary man doing something extraordinary is the last feature film from the late theatre, television and film director, Roger Michell (5 June 1956 – 22 September 2021), a veteran British theatre, television and film director. He was best known for directing films such as Notting Hill (1999), Venus (2006), My Cousin Rachel (2017) as well as the 1995 made-for-television film Persuasion.
The Duke brims with warmth, charm and Roger Michell’s trademark British sense of humour.
Jim Broadbent [Life Is Sweet (1990), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Le Week-end (2013), Another Year (2010)] stars as Kempton Bunton, a modern day mash up of Robin Hood/Mahatma Gandhi, which he plays to perfection. Helen Mirren [The Queen (2006), Hitchcock (2012), Red (2010), Gosford Park (2001)] is superb as his long-suffering wife and they are ably supported by a top ensemble cast is this remarkable story based on true events.
With a witty screenplay by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, a great score from George Fenton and Kristian Milsted’s fantastic production design, The Duke returns us to 1961 where the financial impact of the Second World War is still being felt in Britain’s poorer communities. In Newcastle, Kempton Bunton (Broadbent) is a seemingly ordinary working-class man, and his wife, Dorothy (Mirren) works hard in menial jobs to provide for their family. Bunton regularly gets the sack from jobs because of his principles. With an abrupt nature he feels disenfranchised by post-war society and wants to inspire change to support the vulnerable, elderly and those who served and lost loved ones in the war.
Incensed that the government contributed a special Treasury grant of £40,000 to the purchase, Bunton decides to steal the newly acquired portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Goya from the National Gallery in London.
It was the first (and remains the only) theft in the Gallery’s history. Kempton sent ransom notes for £140,000 (£3m today) saying that he would return the painting on condition that the government invested more in care for the elderly – he had long campaigned for pensioners to receive free television. What happened next became the stuff of legend. The theft even entered popular culture, and was referenced in the 1962 James Bond film Dr. No. The prop painted by Ken Adam was used in the film promotion and was then stolen itself. Only fifty years later did the full story emerge. The only truth was that Kempton Bunton was a good man, determined to change the world and save his marriage – how and why he used the Duke to achieve that is a wonderfully uplifting tale.
The Duke is a moving tale about one man’s fight for the voiceless and a much-needed celebration of the good in people and a sweet, fitting swan song for director Roger Michell, who has offered us a well-acted and engaging dramatization of an entertainingly improbable true story.
Images courtesy of: PatheUK