starring: jim broadbent, helen mirren, fionn whitehead, and matthew goode
REVIEWER: lyall carter
In 1961, Kempton Bunton, a 60 year old taxi driver, steals Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London.
Feel good films get a bit of a hard rap. While it’s true that they give audiences a bit of a pick me up, they often lack real depth of substance beyond the fluff. But The Duke is a different kind of feel good film altogether. With terrific performances from Broadbent and Mirren, The Duke is a crowd pleasing, feel good film with great depth that will lift your spirits and leave you with a big smile plastered across your face. One of 2022’s best films.
The Duke is the true story of Kempton Bunton, a 60-year old taxi driver, who stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. It was the first (and remains the only) theft in the Gallery’s history.
Kempton sent ransom notes 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. Only 50 years later did the full story emerge…
Often with films of this ilk the most exciting element of the story, in this case the theft of the Goya from the National Gallery, becomes the central focus at the expense of everything else. While the art theft has prominence in the film, it bravely goes deeper and doesn’t heavily rely on it. The theft becomes the canvas upon which a broader, deeper story with a whole lot of spirit lifting heart is painted on (pun very much intended).
At its heart the story is about the lives of the Bunton family - Kempton’s attempt to write plays that he sends to the BBC without success and his many social justice campaigns all played out to his wife Dorothy’s constant embarrassment. Their son Jackie is trying to find his way in the world away from his mother and father’s expectations and Kenny, their other son, has found himself in the murky world of shady dealings. Kempton and Dorothy are also mourning the death of their daughter, which they both doing quite differently. Because we have spent so much time with Kempton and his family, the final act of the film where he is in court charged with the Goya’s theft carries a lot more emotional weight than it would have if that heart wasn’t there.
And it’s in the lives of this ordinary, working class family that the late director Roger Michell, in his last drama film, finds the real magic. With the family established as the narrative bedrock with witty, hilarious dialogue to boot, Michell then adds the flourishes of split screens, historical footage from 60’s London, and a lively score that make The Duke such a cheerful, fun, and entertaining time out at the movies.
Could you get more of a dream team than Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren? Unsurprisingly they are both terrific and the little intricate details like the knowing sideway glances, the playful banter, and little gestures of love make the central characters and their relationship all the more believable.
With terrific performances from Broadbent and Mirren, The Duke is a crowd pleasing, feel good film with great depth that will lift your spirits and leave you with a big smile plastered across your face. One of 2022’s best films.