How good is it to be back at the cinemas? It is bloody fantastic! Even better is being able to attend a film festival in person for the first time in what feels like forever! The British Film Festival, presented by Palace Cinemas, is swinging into action around the country and I had the privilege of attending the opening night in Melbourne with a screening of The Duke.
Based on a true story and starring Jim Broadbent as Kempton Bunton, with Helen Mirren as his wife Dorothy, the film follows the events leading up to Bunton’s arrest and subsequent trial for the theft of a piece of artwork known as The Duke.
After losing his job as a taxi driver, Bunton is left to scrounge for work to support his family. Much to his wife’s annoyance, Bunton seems to put more effort into his political agenda than he does work, with his campaigning against the paid licenses to watch the BBC. That is right! The British have to purchase a license to watch TV. Believing this a violation of his rights and an unfair tax on everyday citizens, Bunton modifies his own television so it cannot pick up the signal from the BBC. Thinking he had won; he is arrested for not owning a license and served two weeks in prison. Upon his release, Bunton heads to London to fire up his campaign against the TV Tax. During his visit to London, The Duke is stolen from the National Gallery and ends up hidden in a dresser in Kempton Bunton’s study. After a series for events, Bunton is subsequently tried for the theft of the famous artwork.
Over the years, I am yet to see a film from the British Film Festival that has left me disappointed. Combined with the stellar cast, I had high expectations for The Duke, and I can safely say, it passed with flying colours. Jim Broadbent is absolutely brilliant in his role as Kempton Bunton. I felt his passion and drive for what he believed in. He put me in the characters shoes, and it was like I was in the ring ‘fighting the man’ alongside him. Broadbent also brought his quick wit and carefree attitude to the role that I have come to expect.
Helen Mirren, what can I say? She is fantastic in any role that she approaches, and her portrayal Dorothy Bunton is no exception. Dorothy is a hard-working professional housekeeper and an even harder working wife. Hard working in that Dorothy is tirelessly trying to keep her husband focused on supporting the family. Mirren showcases this fine balance of authority, frustration, and unconditional love absolutely perfectly. There is a wonderful natural chemistry between Broadbent and Mirren, almost as if they had been married for decades themselves. And, if not already incredible enough, these brilliant performances are elevated by the perfectly written screenplay from Richard Bean and Clive Coleman.
At its core, The Duke is the perfect underdog story and reminded me of the Australian classic, The Castle. Both films have a struggling patriarch that fights against a higher power, and both have a brilliantly light and subtle comedic undertone to the otherwise serious narrative. I fell in love with The Castle, and I could not help but fall in love with The Duke. It makes me wonder if the producer, Nicky Bentham, and director, Rover Michell are also a fan of the Australian classic, or perhaps it is just a happy coincidence?
Overall, The Duke is a brilliantly written, fun adaptation of an otherwise serious crime. I found myself smiling from ear to ear throughout the entire film. The Duke also had me hanging on the edge as the crime and subsequent trial unfolded. It was everything I wanted it to be and more.
The Duke was initially shown around the country as part of the British Film Festival (https://britishfilmfestival.com.au) November last year. And is now finally in all good cinemas everywhere.