The Duke

In theaters April 29

The Plot:

In 1961, Kempton Bunton, 60, stole Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. He later returned it, was arrested and became a folk hero of sorts at his sensational trial. A longtime rabble-rouser and thorn in the British government’s side over his protests of the BBC license fee for homeowners, he claimed he wanted to use the painting for leverage to make sure the common man got a break.

Lynn’s Take:

“The Duke” is a delightfully daffy British comedy made even merrier by casting Jim Broadbent as the loquacious Bunton and Helen Mirren as his long-suffering hard-working wife.

The pair of Oscar winners – Mirren for "The Queen” in 2006 and Broadbent for “Iris” in 2001 -- are well-suited to play the at-odds spouses based on the stranger-than-fiction true story, which is set in working-class Newcastle.

Because of their versatility, they are convincing at each stage of their characters’ journey, especially the grieving aspect. Mirren’s Dorothy is at her wit’s end, and you feel her exasperation, while Broadbent burrows beneath the skin of this eccentric single-minded man who appears to not be able to get his act together – nor does he seem to want to, therefore aggravating many.

The Buntons had a daughter, Marion, who died at age 18 in a bicycle accident. The script by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman details how they both deal with the tragedy, offering another layer to the characters.

Sadly, this was film director Roger Michell’s last film before he died in September 2021. Best known for ‘Notting Hill,” his track record was spotty the past few years – disappointing “My Cousin Rachel” and “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” but the charming documentary “Tea with the Dames” in 2018.

Michell deftly balances the drama and the comedy in this bizarre true story, and the source material is so ripe to work with anyway – but the screenwriters, actors and director collaborated splendidly to craft an ultimately uplifting story tinged with real-life pathos.

The ensemble provides solid support to the two British treasures, with Matthew Goode as the amused defense attorney Jeremy Hutchinson and Fionn Whitehead as their son Jackie.

Although the case is public record, and occurred 60 years ago, I’m not going to divulge details here. If you don’t know the facts of the case, then you will discover the outcome while watching the movie.

While it’s not a laugh-riot, this film is an amusing account of the people behind the headlines, as well as a fond farewell to the late British director who helmed it.