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The Crack Magazine

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The Duke

Director: Roger Michell

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Matthew Goode, Fionn Whitehead, Anna Maxwell Martin

So extraordinary are the details of this wildly enjoyable Benwell-set tale, based on real events, it seems unbelievable it is not better know. It’s 1961 and the magnificently-named Kempton Bunton (Broadbent) is a sixty-something working class bloke of no fixed employment, who is residing in Benwell with his long-suffering but broadly supportive wife Dorothy (Mirren) and twenty-something son Jackie (Whitehead). Struggling to stay in regular work thanks to his defiantly progressive attitudes and cheeky anti-authoritarian manner, Kempton’s latest cause is protesting against BBC licence fees for over 60s. His crusade takes him to the BBC and Parliament where there are no warm receptions. In an audacious move, Kempton ‘borrows’ Goya’s portrait of The Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery, and holds it to ransom until his demands are met. Comedy ensues as the family struggle to hide the painting while clueless police officers try to identify the perpetrator – ‘the Italians’ one inspector announces gravely. Working from a script co-written by Richard Bean, writer of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’, Michell maintains a brisk and jaunty pace, while Broadbent nails the slightly pedantic tone of yer Geordie autodidact. Mirren also does good work with the potentially stock role of dutiful but wily wife. The verisimilitude is ruptured slightly by the decision to try and recreate Newcastle’s west end in Yorkshire, and the story descends, as crowd-pleasing Britfilms do, into sentimentality in the last reel, but a fantastic postscript, featuring a certain British iconic figure, ends the film on a cheeky comic high note. 

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