26 September 2023

The Duke

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Reviewed by Hannah Spencer.

Director: Roger Michel, 2022, Warner Bros. Pictures, M, 96 mins.

The charming true story of a 60-year-old taxi-driver, responsible for one of the most unusual art heists in history, who becomes a folk hero in the process.

Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge) plays the self-proclaimed Robin Hood figure, Kempton Bunton, who in 1961 stole the priceless Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery.

He tries to ransom the painting for government support for the veterans and the elderly in the form of free television licenses.

Bunton’s idealism and capers have landed him in hot water before; he’s banned from the local pub for stealing toilet paper and is regularly fired from jobs – much to the frustration of his long-suffering wife Dorothy (Helen Mirren, The Queen) and delight of his adult sons.

However, things escalate with his latest campaign for free access to TV for pensioners.

Off the back of a stint in jail for refusing to pay for his TV license, Bunton decides to take his demands direct to London.

Returning home, unsuccessful and apparently repentant, Bunton promises his wife to settle down.

Meanwhile, as Dorothy watches evening news reports of the stolen Goya masterpiece, little does she know that her husband and son have it stowed in the back of their wardrobe.

A story that would be too farfetched to believe if it wasn’t true, Bunton managed to capture the hearts of a nation with his brazen theft in the name of the underprivileged.

His frustration with class inequality and the isolation of society’s most vulnerable are subjects just as relevant today as they were in the 1960s.

Whilst director Roger Michel (Knotting Hill) celebrates the anti-establishment sentiments of this unlikely hero, it is his handling of the characters that makes this film such a delight.

Jim Broadbent is the master of the mischievous “twinkle in the eye”, and he brings his character to life with a cheeky charm.

Bunton’s idealism is tempered by his love for his family and fellow man.

The film is nostalgic without veering into cheesiness, it’s wit and charm make it a most entertaining caper.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Screening nationally.

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