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Cannes Film Festival Preview, The Duke (R) ★★★★

By May 8, 2022May 11th, 2022Backstage Pass

I’ll be reporting each week on the 75th Cannes Film Festival held in Cannes, France, as I’m an accredited member of the press again this year. The festival starts May 17th, and tickets are on sale now; check out the links and coverage on Sarah’s Backstage Pass. Two films from the US that will be shown are “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Elvis.

“The Duke” is a dramatic comedy based on a true story over 60 years ago in London, England. Kempton Bunton, a 60-year-old taxi driver, stole Goya’s portrait painting of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London around 4:30 AM. Roger Mitchell, the director of “Notting Hill,” brings us tremendous performances by Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren.

In the 200-year history of the National Gallery in London, only one painting has ever been stolen; the man (allegedly) responsible for the crime was a disabled, retired bus driver living on a pension. When Bunton discovered that the British Government spent £140,000 on the painting to keep it in, Brittan outraged Bunton as he was already upset about paying the Government for a home television license, especially for senior citizens. He was jailed several times for not paying the fee; he felt that taking the Goya painting would shake up the Government and make a political statement. He had no plans to sell the painting.

The charming script written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman contains tremendous heartwarming humor, a working-class hero with overwhelming odds wherein finds absurdity in the situation. The police were convinced a highly organized professional crime ring had stolen the painting. It should be noted that Kenny Bunton, the only son of the couple played by Jack Bandeira, did have a part to play in the heist; however, his scenes are best unknown and viewed as they unfold.

Broadbent is exceptionally well-cast; in general, his physical and persona are a good match for the role. Here, he makes the role his own by adding his quirks and facial expressions. Helen Mirren’s part of a questioning and scolding wife would appear to be a minor role on paper. Although, screenwriters knew they had an Oscar-winning duo and wrote tenderness and loving lines for them to melt our hearts. They are magnificent to watch together. I appreciated Mirren’s restraint as she allowed Broadbent to shine.

As to not give away the key elements, Kempton does have his day in court with the excellent Mathew Goode as his lawyer; those scenes are relatively close to the actual transcripts, making for a crowd-pleasing experience by all as his community shares his defenses. After all, at that time, it was not deemed a crime to take a painting—if that painting was going to be given back to the establishment.

It is a thoroughly enjoyable actual heist film that focuses on its characters while staying close to the source material. One of the best I’ve seen that combines true drama with comedy.

Sarah Knight Adamson© May 8, 2022