The Duke (2020)
August 22, 2023 5:52 AM - Subscribe

In 1961, Kempton Bunton, a 60-year-old taxi driver, aspiring playwright, and champion of the political cause of no television license fees for senior citizens, steals Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London.

About the Film

The Duke is a 2020 British comedy 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 penultimate film before his death on September 22, 2021.

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


While the film evinces the feeling that mere weeks or months passed between the theft and the return of the painting, it was in fact 4 years between the events. Kempton didn't walk into the gallery to return it but rather returned it via a left luggage office and turned himself in a short time later.

Although Kempton Bunton is depicted as being a taxi driver in this film, the real-life Kempton Bunton was actually a former bus driver.

Although the theft of the Goya and the trial were headline news, the actual details of the deal the Police made with the actual culprit did not emerge until 2011.

Kempton Bunton's legal team managed to successfully argue that Kempton wasn't guilty of stealing the painting on the basis that he never intended to keep the painting meaning that he couldn't be guilty of stealing the painting. As a direct result of this case, a further section (number 11) was added to the Theft Act of 1968. This section basically forbid anybody from removing any item or object from display from a public building with public access, effectively closing a former loophole that had existed within the law.

Kempton and Dorothy Bunton were around 60/61 when the events in this movie happened. Jim Broadbent was actually 70 and Helen Mirren was 74 at the time of filming.

Jim Broadbent was Roger Michell's only choice for the role of Kempton. Michell said he would walk away from the film unless Broadbent agreed to play the role.

Anna Maxwell Martin (who plays Mrs Gowling) was married to director Roger Michell at the time of filming.

The film uses some authentic TV footage from the era regarding news reporting of the theft (ironically some of it from the BBC archives). It also uses some colour footage taken from Pathe newsreels to depict London in the early 1960s.

The courtroom scenes were filmed at West London Film Studios in Twickenham, Middlesex, where there is a standing court room set that is frequently used for film and television filming.

It took the producers four years to raise the production budget and secure the cast. In the end Pathe stumped up half the £5.5 million shooting budget.

The film was actually completed in 2020 but the release was delayed several times due to cinemas being closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly director Roger Michell died in September 2021, five months before this film was finally theatrically released in February 2022.

EON productions, who are the producers of the official James Bond film series are notoriously protective of their property and rarely give permission for clips to be used in other studio's movies for fear of the clips being misused or lampooned. In this case Dame Helen Mirren and director Roger Michell personally asked the Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson for permission to use the scene from Dr. No, and promised the scene would be used in context and not adulterated in any way. A small fee was paid (which was donated to charity) and Broccoli and Wilson were allowed to view the finished film with the promise of that if they didn't like how the scene was used then it would be removed before release. Fortunately they had no complaints.

Ken Adam, the famous art and production designer, contacted the National Gallery in in London after the 1961 theft of Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington to obtain a slide of the picture. This was so he could paint a copy over the weekend before filming commenced on the Monday for Dr. No in the scenes where James Bond stops in amazement in spotting the missing painting before he has dinner with Doctor Julius No, the in-joke being that Dr. No stole it. The actual painting was not recovered until 1965. Other missing famous paintings have appeared in James Bond films: Modigliani's "Woman with a fan" appears in Skyfall and reappears in Madeleine's room in Blofeld's hideaway in Spectre, and Picasso's "Le pigeon aux petits pois" was also seen in Bond's room at Blofeld's hideaway in Spectre. Both these actual paintings were stolen with three others from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris on May 20, 2010.


Kempton Bunton: I'd just finished reading Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness and I felt a need to explore Sunderland.

Clerk of the Court: Will the defendant please stand. Kempton Bunton, you are charged that on the 21st of March, 1961, you stole from the National Gallery the portrait of Duke of Wellington by the artist Francisco Goya., at the value of 140,000 pounds. How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?
Kempton Bunton: Not guilty.
Clerk of the Court: And that you created a public nuisance by depriving members of the public of the opportunity to view the portrait. Do you plead guilty or not guilty?
Kempton Bunton: Same again, love. Not guilty.

DI Brompton: Nice arse.
DI Macpherson: You are a married man, Reg.
DI Brompton: I can look at a menu as long as I eat at home.

Dorothy Bunton: I'm shaking.
Kempton Bunton: It's the shock.
Dorothy Bunton: Shock, yes, I'm shocked. There's a stolen masterpiece in my *wardrobe*.
Kempton Bunton: I'm taking it back.
Dorothy Bunton: Anything else I need to know?
Kempton Bunton: I lost my job at the bakery.
Dorothy Bunton: No! There's a surprise.

Kempton Bunton: Shall I put the kettle on, love?
Dorothy Bunton: If you think it will go with your outfit.

Kempton Bunton: Rome wasn't built in a day, Jackie. But then again, I wasn't on that particular job.

Kempton Bunton: I stood up against racial bigotry.
Dorothy Bunton: Well done.
Kempton Bunton: Someone had to say something.
Dorothy Bunton: Yes, and it's called Martin Luther bloody King, not Kempton Bunton.

Dorothy Bunton: Who's read this?
Kempton Bunton: Nobody. I should... thinking of only sending one copy out.
Dorothy Bunton: Who to?
Kempton Bunton: Telly.
posted by orange swan (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I liked this one. Just an overall well-made movie telling a fun story that’s (mostly) accurate.
posted by jedicus at 7:54 PM on August 22, 2023

Ooh, thanks for reminding me of this one. Jim Broadbent is a fave, and the details above make me want to see it even more now. Shame about the director dying before it got released...that's just so sad.
posted by mediareport at 8:05 PM on August 22, 2023

This was a good watch! Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren were excellent (just as you'd expect), and then you have the added bonus of seeing Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Goode, and James Wilby.

I loved the twist, which I did not see coming. I had come to think of Kempton as a jackass, but it made me realize he wasn't at all, that he was instead a loving and lovable man who was acting out on his grief over his daughter and his disappointment and frustration with his life (I think he was a man who would have lived a very different life if he had only had a chance to get a good education when he was young) in a quixotic yet not unreasonable grievance over having to pay for a licence to watch the BBC when he wasn't even watching it, and who would have taken a bullet for his family without hesitation.

Anna Maxwell Martin's character did much the same thing when she rooted for Kempton. I definitely got the idea she was someone who wasn't all that happy with her life, and who found a vicarious relief in supporting Kempton's doughty defiance.

I haven't a criticism to make of this movie, and highly recommend it.
posted by orange swan at 2:57 PM on August 23, 2023

I really enjoyed this movie - and orange swan, thank you so much for the excellent round-up of trivia. I did a bit of reading about the real-life history, but I missed nearly everything you included, and I am grateful to know more.
posted by kristi at 4:09 PM on September 2, 2023

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