Greetings again from the darkness. It made headlines in 1961. Francisco Goya’s ‘Portrait of the Duke of Ellington’ was stolen from London’s National Gallery. Director Roger Michell, with a screenplay from Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, dramatize the story so that it’s part comedy and part love story, and thanks to screen veteran James Broadbent, full of charm.
Oscar winner Broadbent (IRIS, 2001) stars as Kempton Bunton. We first see him in the midst of his courtroom trial. Pretty quickly, the film flashes back to 6 months prior. Kempton hasn’t had much luck in keeping his job as a cab driver, or a baker, or any other. He’s a bit of a rabble-rouser, quick to share his unsolicited opinions, and on a constant mission to look out for ‘the little guy.’ He is also a would-be writer who cranks out novels (“Susan Christ”) and plays that never get published, all of which adds to the chagrin of Kempton’s wife, Dorothy, played by Oscar winner Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN, 2006). Dorothy works as a maid, and only desires a simple, steady, and predictable life with her husband … who delivers quite the opposite.
Living in a working-class neighborhood with one of their sons, Jackie (Fionn Whitehead, DUNKIRK), Kempton and Dorothy have an interesting relationship … one that includes contrasting methods of grieving over the death of their daughter. She internalizes while he writes about it. Kempton’s latest protest is against the government buying back the Goya painting while so many citizens suffer the indignity of paying a television licensing tax. He insists the government should spend the money on the people, not on frivolities like art. It’s during this phase when we wonder if son Jackie is learning more from dad than we originally suspect.
Director Michell includes some fascinating shots, including the theft of the painting, which leaves Edvund Munch’s “The Scream” in the video wake. We also see the scene in the 1965 James Bond film DR NO which features the Goya painting and a little inside humor. There are also numerous shots with Broadbent superimposed into archival footage of 1960’s London, and actual newsreels from the era. The tone shifts when Kempton turns himself and the painting into the authorities. His courtroom behavior plays like a stand-up comedy routine, while his barrister (played by Matthew Goode) uses Kempton’s everyman-likability to his advantage.
Director Roger Michell passed away in September 2021. He’s best known for NOTTING HILL (1999) and VENUS (2006), and unfortunately, he didn’t get to see his final film released in theaters. Broadbent’s charm is on full display here, and the film easily could have gone deeper into the topics of social inequality and governmental mismanagement. Instead, it’s more sentimental and funny than enlightening … an outlandish heist story that plays just as well as a gentle love story. And that’s a pretty good cause for Mr. Michell the filmmaker.
Opens in NYC and LA on April 22, 2022 and nationwide on April 29, 2022
“Bring a Friend Back to the Movies” will provide one complimentary ticket to customers who purchase a ticket directly from the Angelika website, app or in theaters to see “The Duke” during the first week of its release. Select Angelika locations will also offer each ticket holder for “The Duke” a specially priced split of bubbly to share with their friend in celebration of their return to the movies