The Duke | Film critic
February 21, 2022
Roger Michell, best known for directing a romantic comedy classic Notting Hillsadly passed away a few weeks after his last film, The Duke, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2021. Set in 1960s Newcastle, it tells the amusing real-life story of a working-class Robin Hood figure challenging the English class system through small acts of rebellion, such as refusing to pay for his television license, then going so far as to steal a famous painting to draw attention to his humble social struggle. Starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, it’s a heartwarming story about standing up for what’s right, even when one’s means are modest.
Kempton Bunton (Broadbent) is an aspiring playwright who regularly finds himself fired from his day job due to his outspoken personality and passion for social justice. His wife, Dorothy (Mirren), does her best to instill a sense of stability and decorum in the family home, but Kempton and their two adult sons often get into mischief. Outraged to learn that a large sum of public money is being spent on the purchase of the portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya, Mr Bunton sets himself a mission: he thinks the money would be better invested in exempting citizens aged pay TV License. While her solo campaign failed to attract attention, things changed dramatically when the painting disappeared from the National Gallery in London.
The Duke tells Bunton’s story in a modest, elegant tone that keeps it from getting too sentimental. The film is never brutal in its approach as it tackles topics such as bereavement, ethics and family values. Broadbent doses the comedy perfectly and gives the protagonist enough eccentricity to justify his actions, while letting his vulnerable side emerge and attract sympathy.
Extremely sweet and endearing, The Duke awakens a sense of nostalgia for times past, and it’s also a wonderful final addition to Roger Michell’s legacy.
The Duke airs nationwide on the 25thand February 2022.
Watch the trailer for The Duke here: