As director Roger Michell’s final film, The Duke is a positive one to end with. It is based on the story of Kempton Bunton, who, in his campaign for free television licenses for war veterans and retirees, stole Goya’s painting of the Duke of Wellington. His vision? To allow everyone access to the BBC by ransoming the painting for 140,000 pounds. He would return the painting in exchange for the money, which would then be used for a charity to pay for television licenses for the less fortunate.
There is no doubt that the amazing performance of long-time film favourites Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren bought this movie to life. The pair are equally talented in their acting skills, and both managed to successfully capture the essence of the 60s in their postures, facials, voices, and mannerisms.
Without this type of casting for the particular character roles, the film would have lacked the authenticity required to portray such a story in a charming way. Upcoming Voyagers star Fionn Whitehead also demonstrated his versality as Jackie Bunton, the loyal son who supports his father Kempton Bunton’s idealism.
Although it would suit any audience, it would particularly suit those familiar with the story, anyone English, or, anyone with a love of modern English history and interest in sociology. The dialogue in the film, in combination with the people chosen for the remainder of the plot, clearly demonstrate the gender roles, class distinctions, and access to education characteristic of that era.
Mirren, for example, is customarily glamourous in many of her roles however in The Duke she is the grief-stricken demeaned wife, and it shows in her posture and acceptance of fate. It contrasts to her recalcitrant husband, Bunton, who despite his position continues to demand equality, even at a cost to himself.
The class divide and views on marriage embedded in the plot gives the audience a chance to connect emotionally with the people of this film in the era within which they live. Nevertheless, the entire film still manages to be light-hearted and humorous, with a chance to learn about a part of overlooked history that until recently, was hidden in the National Archives.
The Duke is currently showing as part of the British Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect.
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General release from December 26th.