#SheReviews The Duke

March 25, 2022

How far would you go if you were determined to change the world and save your marriage? 

While I sat through the pre-release screening of the comedy-drama The Duke, this was a question I considered. Would I stand up for the same morals and principles of the kind that eccentric Kempton Bunton believed in at the ridicule from others?  

Bunton, played by the renowned and versatile English actor Jim Broadbent, was indeed a strange character but one you grew to like as the story unfolded and learned to understand the reasons behind his unusual behaviour. 

Complimented by his on-screen wife, Dorothy, whose character was superbly portrayed by the delightful Helen Mirren, both Broadbent and Mirren turned this true story into one that was emotionally moving. It amazed me how such events as witnessed in The Duke, actually happened. 

Jim Broadbent steals the show. His expressions speak for his character before a word is uttered and the interaction between him and Mirren is delightful. Actions spoke stronger than words with superb acting by both. 

The Story

The Duke is an amiable true British story of Kempton Bunton, a 60-year old taxi driver, who in 1965, appeared at the Old Bailey for stealing a notable painting, Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington, from the National Gallery in London. It was the first (and remains the only) theft in the Gallery’s history.

Kempton had long campaigned for pensioners to receive free access to television with no license fee charges. He sends ransom notes to the government saying that he would return the painting on the condition they invested more in care for the elderly. 

What happened next became the stuff of legends. Only 50 years later did the full story emerge that Kempton had spun a web of lies which, in his mind was for good reasons, and adds to the mystery where things don’t quite add up. 

It is more than a story about an aging taxi driver. It was about a man’s morals and principles wanting to be a loyal husband and father protecting his family and the pensioners who were unjustly charged. 

Broadbent’s performance in the courtroom was wonderful as he demonstrated both his stubbornness and eccentricity. Even the jury had a laugh or two and as part of the movie audience, we all had a chuckle from time to time 

The alluring truth about Kempton was he was a good man, determined to change the world and save his marriage. Although Kempton insistently frustrated his wife Dorothy she loyally stands by his side.

How and why he used The Duke to achieve what he did is a wonderfully uplifting tale with an unusual twist. The power of the family bond is evident. Kempton’s loyal and protective son Jackie (Fionn Whitehead) sticks up for his dad when he battles The Establishment as does his father protect his son from the courts. 

Director Michell concurs: ‘I’m a great champion for the BBC, it’s also a place where many people in the industry were trained. It is impossible to work on anything without someone being in some way related to the mother ship that is the BBC,’.  As the world continues to come to terms with the aftermath of COVID, Kempton’s message from sixty years ago feels even more relevant.

THE DUKE gives a shining example of how the actions of each and everyone one of us can make a

difference and change society for the better. That message does and will continue to, transcend the passage of time.

Cast and Crew 

Writers: Richard Bean, Clive Coleman

Cast: Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Matthew Goode, Fionn Whitehead

Director: Roger Michell (who sadly died before the film’s release)

Music by: George Fenton

Produced by: Nicky Bentham

Co-Producer: Michael Constable

Executive Producers: Cameron McCracken, Jenny Borgars, Andrea Scarso, Hugo Heppell, Peter Scarf, Christopher Bunton


Released in Event Cinemas 31 March 2022 or advanced screen bookings 25-27 March 2022

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