The Duke


Brian Penn


Posted on:

26 Feb 2022

Film Reviews
The Duke
Directed by:
Roger Mitchell
Written by:
Richard Bean, Clive Coleman
Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead
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Just occasionally a film will uncover a story that has been forgotten or mislaid in the pages of history. A hidden gem waiting to be discovered that reveals the essential goodness in human nature. Based on a true story, the nobleman in question is the Duke of Wellington painted by Francisco Goya. The portrait was purchased in 1961 with a government grant to ensure it stayed on British shores.


Enter Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent), a pensioner and frustrated playwright who rails against the inequities of life. An early template for Victor Meldrew he wonders what £140, 000 might buy for the greater good; the exact amount spent by the government on the Goya painting. Kempton believed TV licences for pensioners should be provided free of charge, and even served time for his refusal to pay for a TV licence. When 'the Duke' goes on display at the National Gallery he sees an opportunity to even the score. His long suffering wife Dottie (Helen Mirren) tries to understand an increasingly obsessive crusade and hopes a spell inside has finally 'sorted it'.


However, the painting is mysteriously stolen with a ransom for its safe return. The plan is simple; demand £140,000 and use the proceeds to buy TV licences for the nation's pensioners. The latter day Robin Hood ends up in number 1 Court at the Old Bailey charged with theft. But how will the jury view this most eccentric and spirited gentleman?


The Duke captures the British character at its very best. Kempton Bunton might be stubborn, bloody minded and annoying. But he is also hugely likeable with a disarming charm that defeats his critics; quite simply a rough diamond with a good heart. The court scenes are genuinely funny and extremely moving as Kempton expands on his own philosophy of life. For any law graduate it will revive memories of sleepless nights wrestling with the Theft Act and the 'intention to permanently deprive'. When exactly does 'borrowing' turn into 'stealing'?


It's a beautifully designed film blending newsreel footage to create evocative images of London in the 1960s. Jim Broadbent delivers a spotless performance as the everyman biting back at the system. A fine cast provide sterling support in a film that ends too quickly. Times change but not always for the better, and we often sacrifice important values in the name of progress. The Duke proves that some old fashioned ways are still relevant today. A delightful film that will get nowhere near the attention it deserves.

About the Film Critic
Brian Penn
Brian Penn
Theatrical Release