The late director Roger Michell brought us many pleasures over the course of his career from “The Buddha of Suburbia” on TV to “Persuausion“, “Notting Hill”, “The Mother” “Le Week-End” and “My Cousin Rachel” for the big screen (to mention just a few).
Now, after a series of COVID-related delays, we are treated to his final film “The Duke” which, although definitely one of his lesser works, is very entertaining. This is due to Jim Broadbent playing a quintessentially Jim Broadbent character Kempton Bunton who, in 1961, managed to steal “Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington” from the National Gallery in London and then did not know what to do with it. The film’s running gag is the Bunton did not even like the painting – he thought it could have been better. Bunton’s other beef was his refusal to pay his TV licence and he spent a little time in jail for his beliefs. In a bizarre series of events, which I will not spoil, these two seminal events in Bunton’s life are inextricably linked.
Michell is content to sit back and hand the film over to Broadbent, having previously worked with him to superb effect in “Le Week-end”. If you are a Broadbent fan, as I am, you are in for a good time. The movie hinges on Benton’s trial in the Old Bailey where he plays to the crowd – he was also an aspiring playwright whose plays were never produced – and Broadbent is in his element here.
Dame Helen Mirren lends her regal presence to the proceedings as Bunton’s wife. She is perfect but the role is a small one.
And we learn, at the end, that Bunton did leave his mark on British Society – TV licences are now free to all those age 75 or older!
A Sense of History
Note: In Mike Leigh’s short film “A Sense of History” Jim Broadbent played a real “Duke”, or, to be more precise, the 23rd Earl of Lette who murdered his wife and his brother. “History” is also worth watching and is available on The Criterion Collection.