Film review: The Duke
A moving and witty account of an art heist that gripped the nation in 1961
I could probably watch this old-fashioned comedy caper “all day every day for the rest of my life,”, said Deborah Ross in The Spectator. Directed by the late Roger Michell (of Notting Hill fame), it recounts the notorious theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in 1961, and stars Jim Broadbent as Kempton Bunton, the idealistic taxi driver from Newcastle who claimed to have committed this audacious crime.
The film is “wonderfully funny”, but “thoughtful and tender” too; if you don’t find Bunton – the “ordinary fella prompted to do an extraordinary thing” – wholly “loveable” from the off, I’ll “refund your ticket”.
This warm and witty film has the “zing of a classic Ealing caper”, said Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph. Broadbent and Helen Mirren, who plays Bunton’s wife, have rarely been better. And while the film is unafraid to “go broad – one stirring sequence is scored to the hymn Jerusalem, for goodness’ sake” – it touches on serious themes (about how, for instance, institutions should serve the people who fund them); and its subtlety “often catches you off guard”.
There are moments when it ladles on the “working-class nobility” a bit thick, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail: we see Bunton standing up against racism, and being sacked as a taxi driver for waiving a war veteran’s fare; but Broadbent “keeps it real at every turn, and manages a passable Geordie accent to boot”, while Mirren, who does frumpy and downtrodden as well as she does elegant hauteur, is a “superb foil”.
Although she is often exasperated by her “placard-waving husband”, we never doubt the depth of their love. For what proved to be his swansong, Michell has given us a truly “lovely film”.