Roger Michell, best known for directing romantic comedy classic Notting Hill, sadly passed away weeks after his last film, The Duke, was presented at the Venice Film Festival in September 2021. Set in 1960s Newcastle, it relates the amusing real-life story of a working-class Robin Hood figure challenging the English class system through small acts of rebellion, such as refusing to pay his TV licence, and then going as far as stealing a famous painting to draw attention to his humble social fight. Starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, this is a heartwarming tale about standing up for what is right, even when one’s means are modest.
Kempton Bunton (Broadbent) is an aspiring playwright who regularly finds himself dismissed from his day jobs due to his outspoken personality and passion for social justice. His wife, Dorothy (Mirren), tries her best to instil a sense of stability and decorum in the family home, but Kempton and their two adult sons are often up to mischief. Outraged to hear that a large sum of public money is being spent on the purchase of Francisco Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington, Mr Bunton sets himself a mission: he believes the money would be better invested in making elderly citizens exempt from paying the TV licence. While his one-man campaign fails to draw any attention, things change drastically when the painting goes missing from London’s National Gallery.
The Duke tells Bunton’s story in an unassuming and elegant tone that prevents it from becoming overly sentimental. The film is never heavy-handed in its approach as it touches on topics such as grief, ethics and family values. Broadbent doses the comedy to perfection and gives the protagonist enough eccentricity to justify his actions, while also letting his vulnerable side emerge and draw sympathy.
Tremendously sweet and endearing, The Duke awakens a sense of nostalgia for bygone times, and it is also a wonderful final addition to Roger Michell’s legacy.
The Duke is released nationwide on 25th February 2022.
Watch the trailer for The Duke here: