Arts & Entertainment

The Duke – the greatest art heist ever?

Jim Broadbent

Jim Broadbent in The Duke.

Based on a true story which occurred in 1961 this British film details the tribulations of Kempton Bunton, an elderly man who couldn’t keep a job and allegedly stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke Of Wellington worth £140,000 from the National Gallery in London.

The film opens where he’s in court facing criminal charges for theft and the story is then told in flashback. Bunton (Jim Broadbent) argued that the elderly and war veterans should not be paying television taxes and fought against such ‘social injustices’.

His wife (Helen Mirren) stressed that he should find work and keep his name out of the newspapers for such misdemeanours, but her advice fell on deaf ears, as he claimed it was his democratic right to campaign for such causes. His wife begged, “promise me you’ll give up your nonsense,” and believed she was living with a good but mad man.

Helen Mirren & Jim Broadbent

Helen Mirren & Jim Broadbent in The Duke.

Described as a biography/comedy/drama the film is devoid of comedy in the first three acts leading audiences to ask, where’s the comedy? The comedic elements finally get in full throttle in the final act during the court scenes, faithfully restoring the film’s classification as a comedy.

Actual newsreel footage of the case is cleverly intertwined compounding to the film’s sense of realism. This is a small slow-burning film with no thrills but pleasant and uplifting viewing for lovers of quality arthouse cinema.

Did Kempton Bunton steal the portrait for his own advantage or was it for a charitable cause? Was he a martyr or a criminal? There’s a major twist in the film for those who are not familiar with this story, and oddly enough it took 50 years for the truth to emerge.

★★★ ½

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