“I didn’t steal it, just borrowed it”, Kempton Bunton’s defense is in the Old Bailey, the well-known court in London, when he is on trial for the theft of The Duke of Wellington, the film’s namesake The Duke and portrait painted by Fancisco de Goya, which had been purchased by the British government in the early 1960s for a sum that, in Bunton’s opinion, could be better spent on promoting the BBC license fee, to make the license fee, free for the elderly. And so, it is said in this true story, he stole the canvas from the National Gallery to make a point.
Bunton, played with infectious enthusiasm by Jim Broadbent, is a socially engaged citizen. Such a person who not only believes that the license fee for the elderly should be waived, but also campaigns for it. He takes a seat at a table in a shopping street to collect signatures and travels to London to loudly address those present about his convictions in the hall of parliament. You might think differently of him in the current political climate, because he fits right in with people who find something that nobody else does, but still keep fighting for it. We all have terms for that these days. But not for Bunton, because the good man – and he is – just wants to get something very simple done and stands up for his principles. Thirteen days in jail for owning a TV but not paying license fees? Fine. As long as his position is clear.
The Duke tells lightly how his simple family life works: two sons have already left home, or one may not. He is unemployed, but campaigns and in the meantime writes plays, including one based on a personal tragedy. And in doing so, he expresses himself more explicitly than his wife Dorothy (Helen Mirren), who prefers to forget the tragedy in question. He lives more outwardly, seeks contact with the world, where it simply positions itself. Nobody wants to produce his plays, or screenplays, by the way, but that hardly bothers him. Bunton always seems to be having fun with something. Setbacks are never sufficient reason to stop doing something, he shows and with that he is an inspiration for (eventually) his wife and hopefully also for the viewer.
It’s a remarkable story, that of an elderly man who supposedly broke into a prestigious London museum and casually stole a painting, but except for a few details, it’s true. No one would have dared to imagine sixty years ago that such a fun film could be made, in which it becomes clear that you benefit from life if you participate in it and that it can also have a positive influence on your environment. But Kempton Bunton (he explains without being asked where his name comes from) is infectious in the simple way in which he approaches the world around him. The Duke is the ideal British feel-good comedy about an art theft you didn’t know you were waiting for.