The Duke (2020) online

Year: 2020
Time: 1h 36m
Director: Roger Michell
The Duke is a 2020 British comedy-drama film directed by Roger Michell, with a screenplay by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman. Dealing with the 1961 theft of the Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, the film stars Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead, Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Goode. It was Michell's final film before his death on 22 September 2021.

The film was awarded 5 stars from The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph following the World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival. It was released in cinemas in the UK on 25 February 2022.

60-year-old self-educated working class Kempton Bunton (Broadbent) appears in Court Number 1 at the Old Bailey, pleading not guilty to charges of stealing Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington and its frame from the National Gallery in London. Six months earlier, in spring 1961, he sends a script to the BBC from his native Newcastle upon Tyne. Soon afterwards he is jailed at Durham for thirteen days for watching TV without a licence, although he can afford one he refuses to do so as part of his campaign against pensioners having to pay for it, part of his wider strong socialist beliefs about supporting the common man.

Kempton's son Jackie meets him on his release and on their way home they visit the grave of Marion, Jackie's sister, who had been killed in a bicycle accident aged only 18. Kempton's wife Dorothy (Mirren) works as a housekeeper and babysitter for a local councillor and his wife (Maxwell Martin), Jackie aims to become a shipbuilder and move away and his elder brother Kenny lives in Leeds, working in construction but also involved in low-level crime. Kempton himself is sacked from his job as a taxi driver due to being over-talkative to passengers and giving a free ride to an impoverished disabled World War One veteran. He gets Dorothy to allow him a two-day trip to London to drum up press and parliamentary attention for his campaign and BBC interest in his scripts, on the condition that if he does not get that attention he will give up writing and campaigning and get a job. An unseen man with a north-east English accent steals the painting and after Kempton's return to Newcastle he and Jackie make a false back to a wardrobe to hide it.

Kempton sends a series of ransom notes to the government, saying that he will return the painting on the condition that the elderly be exempted from paying for a TV licence. Kenny and his separated lover Pammy come to visit his parents and she spots the painting in the wardrobe, revealing this to Kempton in private in hopes of getting half the £5,000 reward offered. Panicked, Kempton abandons a suggested Daily Mirror plan to raise money for his campaign via an exhibition of the painting and instead walks into the National Gallery to return it and confess to the theft. Though the case seems hopeless, his barrister Hutchinson (Goode) defends him on the grounds that he had no intent to deprive the Gallery of it permanently, but instead simply 'borrowed' it to further his campaign, an impression Kempton bolsters by voluble testimony under cross-examination by Hutchinson at the end of the trial.

Back in Newcastle during the early stages of the trial, Jackie reveals to his mother that it had in fact been him who stole it for his father to use in his campaign, with his father covering up for him and taking the blame. The jury acquits Kempton of all charges except the theft of the £80 picture frame, which Jackie had removed from the painting at his London lodgings and then lost. After his three-month sentence, Kempton and Dorothy forgive each other over how they had mishandled their grief at Marion's death. Four years later Jackie admits his guilt to the police, but they and the Director of Public Prosecutions fear that a new trial could lead to Kempton being called as a witness and again becoming a embarrassing cause celebre. They therefore agree that if Jackie does not go public they will not prosecute. Text at the end of the film states that the frame was never recovered and that no plays by Bunton were ever produced, but that forty years later TV licences were made free to over 75s.

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