In Byker, Newcastle, 1961, socialist, would-be writer, and pensioner, Kempton Bunton, is protesting about the cost of his TV licence. He believes if he only watches ITV, and not the BBC, then he shouldn’t have to pay a tax for the privilege.
After spending a few days in prison for sticking to his beliefs, he sets up a petition with the aim of encouraging the government to give old age pensioners free access to television. But with only a handful of signatures on his petition, and his grassroots campaign being called off due to the rain, his attempt falls flat.
Deciding to take a more direct approach, Kempton sets off to London to drum up some interest in his endeavour, with the aim of speaking to all of the national newspapers. However, when the papers show no interest, he comes up with a new plan: to steal a famous painting and use the reward money to spread the wealth.
Breaking into the National Gallery, Kempton steals the Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, by Francisco Goya. He then takes the painting back to his home in the North East, where he hides it in the back of a wardrobe.
Over the next few days, Kempton sends letters to the press requesting a £140,000 ransom for the return of the portrait, which he would like donated to charity. But with the painting in his possession, the ransom money not materialising, and the story making national headlines, is it all just a matter of time before the crime catches up with him?
The above is the premise for the new British comedy-drama, The Duke. The movie – which is based on a true story – stars Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, and Fionn Whitehead and is directed by Roger Michell – the final movie from the director before his death in 2021.
The Duke was originally scheduled for release in 2020, following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. However, due to issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the release date was bumped a couple of times, finally securing a date this year.
Should you want to watch the movie – and you should – The Duke arrives in UK cinemas on Friday 25th February. The Duke is a touching and brilliantly put together crime-caper, guaranteed to warm the coldest heart, and is a must-see Brit flick.
Taking the lead in the movie is Jim Broadbent, who plays the role of idealist do-gooder Kempton Bunton. As with every role Broadbent inhabits, he is of course marvellous, but this is especially true here, where he gets to bring his own down-to-Earth warmth to the part.
Broadbent is an absolute delight in this movie – he knows how to play all the intricacies of the character just right, to ensure Kempton is flawed, yet somewhat relatable. It is a joy to watch him glide through this film with absolute ease, coming across as a well-intentioned, but misguided grandad/dad/neighbour* (*delete as applicable).
Joining Broadbent to offer superb support is Helen Mirren, who plays Kempton’s long-suffering wife, Dorothy. Her role largely involves a lot of scowling and grumbling, but it is such a well-played part, full of nuances and subtleties, that it becomes so much more than a stock character.
Mirren perfectly embodies the personification of a no-nonsense Northern woman, trying her best to make ends meet, despite various issues related to her husband’s madcap schemes. It feels as if Dorothy has been lifted straight from a classic episode of Coronation Street, and while Mirren is not given quite as much material to work with as Broadbent, she really makes this role her own.
Both actors know exactly what to do with their characters and at no point is this ever in doubt. This comes down to the calibre of the acting talent, as well as some solid direction from Roger Michell.
Michell was a great director, who previously brought films such as Notting Hill (1999) and Changing Lanes (2002) to the big screen. It’s sad he won’t see the praise for this movie, because The Duke is another fine film in his portfolio, but I’d like to think he knew he was onto something special here.
This movie highlights just how well he understood the material he was working with. It demonstrates a keen eye for characterisation, but also an ability to balance comedy and pathos.
While the movie is filled with some chuckle-worthy moments, there is also a touch of sadness running through the picture. This is something which is beautifully handled, with Michell managing to bring out the raw emotion at just the right moments.
While the main thrust of the story is about the stolen painting, the whole film is underpinned by a subplot about grief. The film is as much about a crime as it is about a tragedy that has never been fully addressed, and it is interesting to see this brought to the surface.
The way this story beat is interwoven into the main action is just perfect. Michell knew exactly what he was doing here and it shows.
I can’t praise The Duke enough. I adore this movie and give it a high recommendation indeed.
It is a film which is serious when it needs to be, funny when the moments arise, and emotionally charged at all other times. The Duke is also the sort of film that audiences need right now, because it acts as an important reminder that everyone in the world has value, no matter who you are or where you come from.
I believe this movie will play well to international audiences, but it will play especially well to us Brits. The film is so quintessentially British, that it’s like watching a ‘60s kitchen sink drama, mixed with a Wallace & Gromit short.
If you have parents or grandparents who haven’t been to the cinema lately, but are looking for something worth their time, then take them to see this. The Duke is a treat of a movie and a real uplifting gem.