The Duke: A movie review by Alex First

April 7, 2022 by Alex First
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Based on fact, The Duke is the story of a 60-year-old old British man who in 1961 allegedly stole a painting worth £140,000 from the National Gallery in London.

He did so because he was against a law that saw people charged a licence fee simply for owning a TV.

The painting in question was Francisco Goya’s Portrait of The Duke of Wellington, from where the film’s title is drawn.

The feel-good comedic drama sees Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent) as part of a somewhat dysfunctional family.

He is a man prone to investing his time and energy into causes.

He stands up for injustice when he perceives something is not right.

He is a prolific writer too, though nothing he has written has resonated with the outlets to which he has sent the manuscripts. Nor can he seem to hold down a full-time job.

Meanwhile, his less than impressed wife, Dorothy (Helen Mirren), is a cleaner … to make ends meet.

At home is a younger son, Jackie (Fionn Whitehead), who dotes on his father.

His eldest son Kenny (Jack Bandeira) – who isn’t averse to unlawful practices – has taken up with a separated woman, much to his mother’s chagrin.

But the real elephant in the room is their daughter Marian, who died in a tragic bicycle accident at 18.

Kempton visits her grave regularly and has written a play about that, but his wife can’t bring herself to talk to him about her.

After Kempton gets into trouble for refusing to pay for a television licence, he decides to take drastic measures.

Richard Bean and Clive Coleman wrote the screenplay, with director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) in the chair for the final time (he passed away at the age of 65 last September).

With a noteworthy twist, The Duke is played for laughs.

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In fact, it is largely light and fluffy, notwithstanding its sad undertone.

Jim Broadbent revels in his starring role – his timing is exemplary.

Helen Mirren is convincing, too, in an uncharacteristically downbeat role, probably best described as representing tough love.

Kempton is painted as basically a good guy caught up in a bad system.

There is an air of unrealism about what we are seeing, so much so that even time in the clink doesn’t seem like a big deal.

The courtroom scenes, in particular, seem like opportunities for levity and wit – the chance to deliver some choice one-liners.

And the longer the film went, the more light-hearted the picture seemed to get, so much so that I found it hard to take The Duke as a reflection of reality.

In short, while pleasant enough, I thought the movie could have been done immeasurably better had the filmmakers reduced the comedy and upped the drama.

The gentle gloss or hue over the movie is likely to suit some, but I wanted a heavier edge.

95 minutes

Rated M, The Duke scores a 6½ out of 10.


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