There’s always something fascinating about the heist flick; the notion of a cunning plan, months in the preparation, seeing a crack team recruited for an outrageous job that, if they manage to pull it off, will make them a fortune.
But although The Duke, starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren features an audacious robbery, it is by no means the archetypal heist film, which makes it all the more intriguing.
1961, Newcastle, and 60-year-old Kempton Bunton (Broadbent) has a campaign he’s deeply passionate about – much to the chagrin of his wife Dorothy (Mirren) – and that’s for the over sixties to no longer pay for a TV licence.
Of course he leads by example, by not paying for a TV licence himself, which presents its own problems. But he feels so passionate about it that he decides to go to London and make his feelings known in the capital.
At the same time, making the news is the story that a portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Goya, has been purchased by the National Gallery for £140,000, and is about to be displayed. This gets Kempton thinking, that a picture like that could certainly help his cause, and pay for quite a number of TV licenses, so decides that while he’s in London, he may see if he can ‘borrow’ it.
And sure enough, that’s exactly what he does, resulting in him returning to Newcastle with the expensive Goya under his arm. But despite the remarkable ease of taking it, this is just the start of a whole heap of problems for him.
Some themes for films are just absurdly farfetched, as this one is undeniably, and yet quite remarkably it’s based on a true story. And yet director Roger Michell’s film is far less about the heist itself, and more about the extremely personable character who stole it.
There’s no other way of saying it, Broadbent is just adorable as Bunton in what has to be one of his finest roles; there is a genuine warmth and lovability about him, with his heart very much in the right place. There’s extra depth from the relationship with his wife, as the pair have yet to address a loss in their family, which acts as a wedge between them.
It’s this relationship, as well as those with his two grown sons, that are the main focus of the film, making the incredible theft of the painting a secondary plot. But that’s perfectly fine, as it features as much as it needs to, as a sweet and endearing family film plays out.
Michell not only gets the most out of Broadbent and the rest of his cast, but he also does extremely well in creating the period of the time, and being quite playful in its presentation at times. It’s certainly a testament to his creativity, for what was to be his last feature sadly, as he died not long after the shoot.
What he’s left behind is a charming retelling of a bizarre true event, which brings an incredible amount of heart and humour to the most curious of heist films.