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The Duke movie review & film summary (2022)

The film is based on a true and truly unusual incident: the 1961 theft from the National Gallery of a portrait of the Duke of Wellington, painted by Goya around 1812. Jim Broadbent, clearly delighted with his substantive role, plays Kempton Bunton, an enlightened laborer from Newcastle-in-Time whose detailed and fervent convictions about the rights of the lower classes and the elderly constantly lead to him being fired from any job he can manage. to find. (At first a cab driver, then he carries bread at a bakery.) He is also an amateur playwright. Much to his wife Dorothy’s dismay, one of his themes is the death of their teenage daughter.

The screenplay by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman presents us with Kempton on trial for theft, then jumps back six months to present a portrait of the man’s eccentric sense of activity. A couple of inspectors approach his house. He seems to have a TV in the family apartment. But he doesn’t have a BBC license, which was required at the time. Well, Kempton explains, while he does have a TV, he removed the BBC-ready reel from it. No BBC, no license, he explains. He insists that the fee is an unfair tax. And although he himself is in old age, he believes that the fee should be eliminated for older people who cannot easily afford it.

Later in the film, when the theft occurs and investigators are examining Kempton’s «ransom» note—he will return the painting in exchange for money to pay a few dozen royalties—the woman examining the written claims refers to Kempton as «Don Quixote.» type.» Exactly, and with all the energy too. As Dorothy, Helen Mirren perfectly conveys the irritation and love that the character feels for Kempton, while Broadbent makes Kempton both wonderful and a little funny.

If you have ever seen his documentary «Nothing Like a Lady» released here as «Tea with the Ladies» which recorded conversations between ladies Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright, you know that Michell adored and revered the actors. So it’s no surprise that the film is beautifully acted from top to bottom. Fionn Whitehead fawns admirably as Kempton’s teenage son, who believes in his father implicitly—even more implicitly, in fact, than we were originally shown. And Matthew Goode is amusingly underrated as Kempton’s lawyer, who turns out to be very surprised by the jury’s verdict.

The pace is frantic, and Michell does a few sly moves, so to speak, that add an element of mystery to the script. Neat but barely shabby, The Duke is a sophisticated movie pastime.

Now playing in select theaters.

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