Cast: Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead, Matthew Goode, Aimee Kelly and Charlotte Spencer
Directed by Roger Michell
Written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman
In August 1812, somewhere in Madrid, Francisco Goya painted the portrait of the Duke of Wellington, a tired but successful general. In August 1961, somewhere in Newcastle, bus driver Kempton Bunton – also tired, but hoping to be successful – headed down to London to steal the very same portrait. Starring classic British performers Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, ‘The Duke’ makes for an entertaining and easy-watching drama with an added layer of morality within its contempt for the rich-poor divide in the UK.
Although Bunton (Broadbent) is not a man with a great deal of money to his name, ‘The Duke’ brilliantly shows the beauty in what he does have, and what is most precious to him – namely his family, and the burning desire inside of him to do right by others. He’s a clear hero to the story, allowing the real-life narrative to be framed as a quest for equality in the name of selflessness. Through the writing, as well as a delightfully playful use of music, the Bunton family are shown to be compassionate and caring people, who simply want to get along and make the world a little easier for those around them. A reflection of so many other families at the time, as well as in today’s world, it’s films like ‘The Duke’ which leave audiences with a deeper appreciation for what it is that they have, rather than what they feel they need – not something that can be said of many other heist films.
Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren’s natural chemistry on screen highlights the talent shared between the two, which has been cultivated through years of experience. Whether they’re dancing around their living room whilst the radio signs happily, or battling a speechless argument through facial expressions and simple gestures, the relationship experienced by the audience is one that has clearly had its ups and downs, but remains strong throughout. Furthermore, Fionn Whitehead’s performance as their youngest son brings a great new dynamic to the family, as well as some charmingly funny moments between father and son.
In terms of the crime itself, the absurdly grand nature of its occurrence contrasts brilliantly with the simple nature in which it’s carried out, as well as presented within the film. The idea of waltzing into the National Gallery and picking out a piece of century-old artwork for the good of the working class may seem like something out of a Billy Bragg song, but the fact that this actually took place is heartwarming, and allows for some great moments of humour amongst the severity of its action. The film works really well to frame this scene as a moment of comedy, and reflects the mischievous, schoolboy nature of Bunton shown within most other moments in the story.
From a filmmaking standpoint, ‘The Duke’ isn’t going to be breaking any barriers or pioneering any techniques, but it sets out to tell its story in a way which is fair to its non-fiction roots, and manages exactly that. There’s a distinct charm amongst the performers and filmmakers at work here which British productions often seem to so easily tap into. For anyone wishing to experience two hours of unbridled positivity amongst situations which aren’t always the easiest, ‘The Duke’ is definitely the film for you.