Andrea’s film review – The Duke

The Duke  ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2  Review by Andrea Carnevali

In 1961, Kempton Bunton, a 60 year old taxi driver, stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. On in cinemas now.

The Duke is a delightful British film based on the extraordinary true story of Kempton Bunton, who in 1961 hit the headlines for “allegedly” stealing Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London.

Bunton is an unassuming kind of guy from Newcastle, a fired taxi driver with a rebellious nature, but noble instincts as well as a knack for standing up for the working class.

At the start of the film we meet him trying to outsmart the TV licence detectors by claiming he has actually removed the BBC wiring from his old TV set, so he shouldn’t really be paying for it.

He’s a vocal campaigner for the TV licence to be free for old pensioners (a rather topical subject in today’s British political landscape) and once he is in possession of the painting, he decides to ask for a ransom with the idea of using the money to subside the TV licence for old people.

This could be the perfect set-up for some pungent and sharp satire, however the film doesn’t seem particularly interested in delving into any political issue about inequality or social injustice.

Instead, director Roger Michel, famous for films like Notting Hill (he sadly passed away last September) prefers to keep things light, sweet and brisk, veering more towards the comedic aspect of the story itself and the sweet nature of the protagonist.

And while the comedy is often a bit too easy and doesn’t always hit the mark, there is plenty to love about the characters.

Jim Broadbent in the main role of Bunton has such a gentle and whimsical quality to him, it makes him likeable straight away, even when we know he is doing things he shouldn’t really be doing. You just can’t help hoping he gets away with it.

In contrast Helen Mirren plays the much more down-to-earth wife who tries to keep him grounded, and while she may be exasperated by his eccentricity, at the same she just can’t help protecting him and loving him (who can blame her?)

There is also a slight televisual feel to the film, both in the way it’s shot and it the way it’s acted. You almost expect a laughing track to run under some of the dialogue at times, but while it is certainly a fairly by-the-number affair, it does however wear its heart on its sleeve and it’s a real crowd-pleaser.

And you know what? Despite my initial resistance to its artificiality, I have to confess The Duke (an inspired titled, which could refer both to the painting as well as the noble nature of Bunton), eventually won me over and left me with a huge smile.

I don’t usually give half stars, but this one totally deserves it.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.

The Duke is out in cinemas now.

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See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

See also: Theatre review – Running with Lions at the Lyric, Hammersmith

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