Movie Review: ‘The Duke’

John Thomas

After listening to the London cabbie spew forth his socialists beliefs, the passenger held captive in the backseat flees the vehicle without paying his fare. Returning to the taxi dispatch, the driver, Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent), is fired. He is let go for talking too much to his clients and giving too many free rides to the poor or the disabled.

This isn’t the first disciplinary action taken against the part-time poet/political activist. Kempton recently spent 13 days in prison for watching TV without a license which, in the 60s, was mandatory in England. His wife, Dorothy (Helen Mirren), is disgusted with his constant political ranting but feels little can be done to make him stop.

Sitting in the parlor watching the telly with Dorothy and their son Jackie (Fionn Whitefield), Kempton becomes angered at a news item on the screen. Apparently, the famed portrait of The Duke of Wellington by the noted Spanish artist Francisco Goya was just purchased by the National Gallery in London for 140 million pounds. “And Wellington wasn’t even a good military leader, nor well-liked by his subordinates,” complains Kempton to his family.

“That money could have been better spent helping pensioners, the poor or elderly,” he blusters. “Action should be taken, it’s just not right.” Jackie agrees with his father’s views, Dorothy wants him to stop worrying about others and think of his family first.

Both Kempton and Jackie are absent from home for a day or two. Kempton went to London to pester law makers to cancel the mandatory TV licensing for the elderly or poor – among the several other causes he is championing. On their return, the family collects in front of the telly again, this time watching the London police respond to questions regarding the recently stolen Goya from the National Gallery.

The police firmly believe the theft was carried out by a highly skilled, international group of thieves. Only Dorothy does not know that the painting is tucked away in the extra room on the top floor of their row house. Quite by accident she does find the painting and nearly collapses. How could Kempton do such a thing? After much deliberation, Kempton agrees to return the painting.

He is of course jailed for theft when he walks into the National Gallery with the “Duke” tucked under his arm. At his trial, Kempton is accused of, among other things: 1) stealing a museum frame, 2) stealing a Goya painting and 3) depriving the public of viewing said Goya painting.

The courtroom is filled with the media and supporters of Kempton’s views on social injustice. The jury returns from their deliberations and the indictments are again read. The judge then asks for their verdicts. The head juror responds with: “To indictment 1), the accused is found guilty. To indictment 2), the accused is found….”

Directed by Roger Mitchell (Credits: Elizabeth, Blackbird) The Duke runs 95 minutes. I suggest that you “should see” this story – based on true events – told in an highly entertaining, light, comic way by skilled film makers.


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