Directed by: Roger Michell
Written by: Richard Bean, Clive Coleman
Featuring: Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead, Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Goode, Jack Bandiera, Aimee Kelly, Ashley Kumar
Kempton Bunton lives in Newcastle and is a well-meaning activist, sincerely believing that those in power should never be allowed to get away with neglecting its citizens, particularly the old and veterans of the armed services. This is to the detriment of his family and long-suffering wife as he often ends up being sacked from jobs for taking one stand or another. Eventually, his schemes to make the government sit up and notice results in Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington being stolen from the National Gallery in London and held to ransom.
Directed by the late Roger Michell The Duke is a fine example of the type of film the British film industry makes well. Not so much nowadays but every now and then one of them pops up for our entertainment. A true story, that usually is in the spirit but not necessarily entirely accurate, is about an event or person who fought against overwhelming odds to somehow win the day or at least the hearts and respect of the audience. Often infused with comedy throughout the story our hero will be flawed but charming and likable and generally funny. It sounds cliched and awful written like this but when it is crafted well with a director, writers and actors who know what they are doing it nearly always works.
Such is the case with The Duke. The events shown happened, in fact a lot of the court case dialogue is true and the outcome of the case and the postscript confession is more or less how the story played out. Events have been compressed, Bunton was undoubtedly not as charming and lovable as skilfully portrayed by Broadbent and his wife was not around until the 1970s so we would have missed the hard-bitten working-class women turn from Helen Mirren if the film had been completely factual. Let us be honest where is the fun in that?
This rendition of an interesting footnote in sixties crime and obscure family story was approved by Bunton’s great-grandson, it is fun and likable and a wonderful way to spend 95 minutes of your time.
We are treated throughout the run time of glossy sixties-style side swipes to get us into that time period and alongside the drab grey aspect of the tiny house the Buntons lived in this works more than it fails. Jim Broadbent is on top form as the film focuses mainly on his cheerfully agitative character for most of the running time meaning he has to carry a lot of the film, luckily it is Jim Broadbent so all is safe. Ably supported by a very much ‘yang’ character of his wife played by Helen Mirren we get a possibly more realistic portrayal of the poor working class in that time period. Hardworking, proud, worn-down and tough Mirren just about saves what could be a relentless miserable character by showing a lighter more loving side to her persona as the film nears its end.
Matthew Goode and Anna Maxwell-Martin are in good form as another main staple for this style of film, the upper-middle-class toff who is surprisingly okay. You can justifiably shout ‘trite’ but somehow it feels comfortable and familiar yet not in an annoying ‘seen it all before way.’
CGI, Bradford and I believe Leeds fill in for 1960s London and Newcastle as filming on location in 2020 in those places just would not work any longer. Not being from the North I could not spot any errors or anything looking out of place and although the effects for London were a little obvious it was still decent work to get the feel for the settings.
The whole story whips along at a nice pace, never sags or gets baggy and is a welcome reminder that well-made and entertaining stories about British eccentrics based on surprising truth are still being made and very well too.
Roger Michell is no longer with us but others will accept the batten and every now and then a slight but enjoyable gem will surface.
If nothing else The Duke is worth viewing for peak on-form Jim Broadbent and the court case dialogue which was apparently mostly what was actually said at the time. Recommended.
The trailer for this film looked very interesting to me. I hope I can (eventually) check it out
I think you’d like it Bec, very English and amazingly a true story – obviously Jim Broadbent is very avuncular and fun and the real chap perhaps was more spiky and single-minded but as entertainment about quite frankly should a fictional story you can’t go wrong.