A long-delayed film finally getting its release is a weekly occurrence at the moment, but British comedy-drama The Duke arrives with some sadness.
It is the final film of Roger Michell, the beloved British director of Notting Hill, Venus, and Enduring Love, coming just five months after his passing. The BAFTA winner’s final bow is a charming tale based on an unbelievable true story.
Set in 1961, Jim Broadbent stars as Kempton Bunton, a charismatic 60-year-old taxi driver from Newcastle with strong socialist beliefs. After getting in trouble with the law over his refusal to pay the TV licence, a day trip to London to protest his innocence leads to an expensive painting, The Duke of Wellington, being stolen from The National Gallery, and Kempton holding it to ransom in exchange for the government’s promise for more benefits for the elderly.
The Duke feels tailor-made for the older audiences that have been missing since cinemas reopened. A rose tinted view of Britain’s past is led by familiar faces getting into scrapes that never feel too urgent and always end with a gag.
In this case, there are moments of mild drama, particularly a subplot about Kempton and Dorothy’s (Helen Mirren) late daughter, and the treatment of older people in society (something that sadly rings true today). Mostly, however, it’s about seeing whether our flat capped Danny Ocean can get away with it.
Broadbent’s boundless enthusiasm is infectious, possessing the same cheeky magnetism that made the actor the original choice for Del Boy Trotter. There’s something about him that seems genuine, espousing the kind of home-spun wisdom that can be found in the corner of old-fashioned pubs across the country.
He has an excellent rapport with Mirren, who is the serious counter to his misadventures, but prevents the story from feeling too light.
The Duke is unlikely to draw you to the edge of your seat, but it will keep you happily entertained in it. The kind of bouncy yarn that British cinema does so well, it’s a gentle and accomplished farewell to a British cinema great.