Movie Review: The Duke

A few weeks ago I was debating with my wife about a Francisco Goya painting. So it was perfect timing that we got to watch a movie that’s based on the true story of a man in Newcastle who in 1961, stole Goya’s “Portrait of the Duke of Wellington” from London’s National Gallery. It was sad to find out that British director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) passed away before this movie had been released.

While you’ll be thrilled to see this stars two legendary Oscar-winning actors – Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren – it’s disappointing that this movie lacks the cynical bite it needed. It’s also hard to truly root for Kempton Bunton. He’s supposed to be a loveable, working-class chap who fancies himself a modern day Robin Hood. But he’s a bit of an annoying ne’er-do-well, who we can see puts his wife through the ringer. The long-suffering Dorothy just wants him to get a job and act normal. Yet he can’t do that. He gets fired from jobs because…when he’s a taxi driver, he talks to passengers even after they ask him to be quiet. At a bakery, he talks so much he can’t keep up with his work (yet they give us a scene where he sticks up for an employee over being discriminated against because of his race). 

There was some montage archival footage of London in the early ‘60s, split-screens with jazzy scores, and other stylistic flourishes that made you feel like you were watching a British film from that time. Those bothered my wife, but I thought they worked to put you in the time period. The movie is entertaining enough, but while I was expecting something along the lines of The Full Monty or Waking Ned Devine, this left me wanting more. It’s a middle of the road picture that just doesn’t have enough going for it.

Part of my problem with the Bunton character is that I believe Mitchell felt it was showing his decency. Yet having him complain about people with TVs needing a license to watch the BBC, while interesting, didn’t give me enough. I felt like he was somebody who would complain about any rule any company had (and I say this as someone who, as a child, was the only kid in the neighborhood who had HBO because of how expensive it was in the ‘70s; but we got it illegally, without paying the $28 a month; but I digress [and hope that the statute of limitations has expired].) 

Perhaps if this movie went more into the inequality and class struggle of people in England at this time, it would have been more intriguing. It’s only slightly interesting to have a guy steal a Goya, not to sell on the black market for six figures, but because he’s mad the government spent a lot of money on it, while pensioners are paying just to watch the tele. 

There are elements of Bunton that are interesting. The way he sets up petition tables, or pontificates on preferring Chekhov to Shakespeare, and fancying himself a playwright. One of the pieces he wrote deals with the death of his daughter, which I wish was explored a bit more. 

There are two sons (Jack Bandeira and Fionn Whitehead) that we don’t get a lot from.

There were light touches of humor. You crack up seeing how the authorities think this criminal mastermind had commando training, while we see Bunton’s wide-eyed bite into a scone in his small rowhouse. 

It was great seeing Matthew Goode as a barrister. It was also fun to see a Man Who Shot Liberty Valance type of twist near the end. And while some things may have been fictionalized (was there really an Edvard Munch Scream painting near the Goya?). There were also fun moments that were real (the Goya painting showing up in the first Bond movie Dr. No). Overall though, this was just a bit too light-weight, and the old-fashioned vibe might only appeal to a small minority. But you certainly don’t feel like you wasted your time watching the Bunton family.

2 ½ stars out of 5.

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content