26 September 2023

The Duke

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Director: Roger Michell, Transmission Films.

Two highly-regarded Academy Award-winners team up for The Duke, a true story of a 60-year-old taxi driver, who stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London in 1961.

Kempton Bunton is portrayed by Jim Broadbent (Iris, Moulin Rouge, The Iron Lady). Kempton’s wife Dorothy Bunton is played by Helen Mirren (The Queen, The Madness of King George, Gosford Park).

The theft caused a major embarrassment as not only had a masterpiece been stolen with apparent ease from the National Gallery, it had been stolen by an ordinary member of the public for ostensibly altruistic purposes. 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, with free TV licences (eventually) being introduced in 2000 for the over 75-year-olds.

However, what happens next is unbelievable. The full story emerges 50 years later. Kempton had spun a web of lies. How, and why, he used The Duke to achieve that is a rather elevating tale.

It is Kempton’s younger son, Jackie Bunton (Fionn Whitehead), who finally confesses that he, not Kempton, stole the Goya. Why? Because he was fed up with his father’s campaigns being laughed at or ignored. He wanted to strike a blow for the ‘have- nots’. How? He resolved that if he took the ‘haves’ precious painting, the government might finally listen to Kempton.

Kempton was indicted to appear at the Old Bailey on various charges, including theft of the painting and its frame. He served three months for the theft of the frame, which was never found. Jeremy Hutchinson QC (Matthew Goode) decided on an ingenious way to mount his defence.

  • The Duke is in national release from 31 March 2022

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