The Duke’s heist is all heart and charm | 25YL


Heist movies can be fun. There’s a rush to try to outsmart and outsmart the on-screen criminals and their elaborate plans, a joy to see them outrun their pursuers. Rarely, however, do heist movies offer much more than that thrill. So for those looking for more heart than heist, more charm than crime, please, please, please watch roger michel The Dukea smart and thought-provoking historical comedy-drama featuring what could prove to be a career-defining performance for the ever-excellent Jim Broadbent.

The history of the duke is situated in a historical fact: in 1961, England has been collectively mortified by the shock theft of the famous Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London— the only theft in the history of the Gallery! Kempton Bunton, a 60-year-old taxi driver, unpublished playwright and outspoken advocate for the elderly, sent ransom notes for the painting, asking in return for better care for pensioners, and later confessed to the crime. The robbery and subsequent trial – where the late Roger Michell’s last film begins before his flashbacks – are part of British legend.

Jim Broadbent in THE DUKE. Photo by Mike Eley, BSC. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

On the surface, The Dukeis a simple story, but the truth about it is much deeper and more satisfying. Michell offers us the days and weeks leading up to the heist, giving Broadbent, who plays Kempton with a feistiness and courage that can turn into easy charm, plenty of room and time to shine. Son Kempton is on a crusade for free television for pensioners. The BBC charged licensing fees for its broadcastand only in 2000, were its signals made free for people aged 75 and over – at an estimated cost to the government of $745 million. And in 2020, the availability of these free signals for pensioners has been reduced by two thirds.

Although serious, Kempton’s crusade is something of a madness, as is his professional background. Prone to outrage, he offends the bosses and defends his co-workers in equal measure, only to soon find himself on the streets for another source of income. He can bear telling his wife Dorothy, played by Helen Mirren, the truth only part of the time. She is, even after decades of marriage, just a little willing to believe his not-so-small lies. The relationship between the two is full of the creases and wrinkles that age them. As the main breadwinner, Dorothy is exhausted from her domestic duties and still reeling from the death long ago of their only daughter, Miranda.

Dorothy (Helen Mirren) and Benton Kempton (Jim Broadbent) converse in their kitchen in The Duke.
Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent in THE DUKE. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

With them live their two sons. Jackie (Fionn Whitehead), the younger of the two, repairs ships and dreams of riches he will never have. He is Kempton’s trusted confidant. Older brother Kenny (Jack Bandeira), a no-good petty criminal, returns to the family home with his new girlfriend Pamela (Charlotte Spencer), whose presence disrupts Dorothy’s sense of propriety. In the tight confines of the Bunton household, keeping a high-profile theft and world-famous portrait a secret is no easy task. Something – or someone – has to give.

Jack (Fionn Whitehead) and Kenny (Jack Bandeira) stand in front of an old boat.
Fionn Whitehead and Jack Bandeira in The Duke. Photo by Mike Eley, BSC. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

All of the performances are excellent, including Mirren’s – of course – as a woman stoically holding hearth and home while ignoring her own emotional needs. Years later, she cannot tolerate any mention of her dead daughter, as if her grief is stuck at the stage of denial. The film, however, is very much Broadbent, and I hope it earns the praise and accolades it deserves here. Maybe it’s time to throw that Best Supporting Actor Oscar on the shelf to make room for a second, this time for the lead role. It’s a charming role and an utterly engaging performance. His Kempton Bunton is grumpy at one turn and charming the next, a crowd-pleasing comedian and confused pensioner, a man with lofty ideals and aspirations but lacking the means to realize them.

Benton Kempton (Jim Broadbent) unpacks the Duke's stolen portrait.
Jim Broadbent in The Duke. Photo by Mike Eley, BSC. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Yes The Duke were played perfectly straight, its convoluted true story alone would be enough to win over viewers, but the film is also beautifully shot, tightly edited, and cleverly scored. At times it will borrow just enough of the fast-paced style of the caper movie to shake up the plot while at others Broadbent and Mirren have the time and leisure to work their veteran magic.

There is no misstep or note anywhere in The Duke’s spry 96 minutes of execution. Cinematographer Mike Eley and the design team of Kristian Milsted, Dinah Collin and Karen Hartley-Thomas recreate early ’60s Newcastle and London with working-class realism and attention to detail. Composer George Fenton and editor Kristina Hetherington punctuate the film with a light and playful touch. And Richard Bean and Clive Coleman’s script moves seamlessly from trial to heist, ransom and trial outcome, while leaving plenty of room for characterization and development – and saving a few surprises for the end. .

For all its technical merit, however, The Duke is much more than a well-designed and well-acted period piece. It’s a catchy, crowd-pleasing, and stunning film with its own set of secrets and surprises. Turns out Kempton Bunton didn’t tell the entire truth with his confession to the theft of the Duke of Goya. His lies are fun, but the truth is deeper. And when he comes out, some kind of justice is done.

Even the film’s minor scenes bristle with vigor and determination. During the investigation, for example, London police dismissed a female profiler’s incredibly detailed – and almost perfectly accurate – assessment of one of Kempton’s crudely capitalized ransom notes. Instead, the police conclude, without any discernible justification, that Goya’s theft could only be committed by a well-funded international cohort of professional criminals. Any woman whose ideas have been rejected in the workplace will surely relate, as this kind of casual sexism hasn’t diminished much since the ’60s.

And in a time of pandemic, the very question of how a country cares for its aging population has become increasingly important. Kempton Bunton’s character can sometimes be played for laughs – and there are plenty of them in The Duke— but his goals are sincere. Seniors deserve a quality of life that includes access to culture and the arts. At the height of the pandemic, television became even more important as a means of connecting with the outside world, illustrating to all how dependent socially isolated people can be on its signals. The Duke takes place in the past, but its sentiments are perfectly suited to our current moment. An inspiring and catchy comedy-drama of a cuddly movie, The Duke knows that the heart is more important than the robbery.


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