The Duke (Blu-ray)

In 1961, Kempton Bunton, a 60 year old taxi driver, steals Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London.

July 22, 2022 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

First thing’s first – this movie has nothing to do with John Wayne. Everyone got that? I’d told my wife I was watching The Duke and she asked me that (otherwise I’d have never connected the dots). Rather, this is the tale of a crime that no one knew about for 50 years and is only now seeing the light of day. The film was completed and set to release a couple of years ago, but was pushed back due to “you know what.” Sadly, director Roger Michell died before he saw his last work hit the screen. For reference, Michell is probably best-known for the 1999 romantic comedy classic Notting Hill starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. And, evidently Michell wouldn’t direct this film unless Jim Broadbent would take the lead role. As we can see – he did. Taking all of that into consideration, The Duke is still rather low-profile film that had its debut at the Venice Film Festival…2020. The wait is over. Was it worth it?

Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent) spent the early 60’s sending plays to the BBC in hopes of getting them produced. They never did. He’s an idealistic man who fights for causes that got him sent behind bars on more than one occasion. If you thought that watching TV without a license wasn’t a big deal – evidently it is. His long-suffering wife (Helen Mirren) has put up with his antics for years and serves as the bread winner for the house. She’s a housekeeper for a well-to-do family. Bunton manages to get his hands on Francisco de Goy’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington (hence the title of the film) and swipes it right from under the nose of the National Gallery of London. He soon starts sending letters demanding a ransom of 140,000 pounds with the implication that it be donated to charity, helping those less fortunate. To complicate matters, his scheme starts to falter when it’s discovered that he’s in possession of the painting. Is Kempton a genius or a man without the right plan?

There’s a lot to like about The Duke. I’m always captivated by real-life stories that make it to the screen and when they’re well-written and acted, it only sweetens the deal. By and large, “British” films aren’t really my cup of tea (see what I did there?), but this one somehow drew me in. Broadbent plays the role a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it works and he’s a good enough actor that he could have taken multiple approaches and I’m sure that would have worked as well. If movies like this appeal to you, much like others in the genre: Billy Elliott, The Full Monty, Waking Ned Devine or even Belfast – you’ll find a lot to like here. Mirren, while good in her role, seems relegated to more of a supporting cast member. Regardless, any way you slice it, The Duke still manages to entertain. At least it did with me.

Video: How’s it look?

Depending on the film, England can look like one of the most desirable places to live or one of the most dreadful. The tone here is much lighter and looks to be taken out of a fairytale. Ok, maybe that’s overselling it a bit. Still, the interiors are warm and lush, even the small apartment where a lot of the action takes place. Colors are bold, detail is sharp and black levels seem on the mark. There is some archival footage edited into the film of 1960’s London, so it’s not all super crisp and sharp, but I can’t (and won’t) judge the overall film based on those few scenes. All in all it’s a good-looking picture that’s sure to please.

Audio: How’s it sound?

I didn’t have the bar set too high with this one. And that’s a good thing. Granted, the DTS HD Master Audio mix included has a few moments, this is a very dialogue-driven film. One thing that’s always been difficult for me (when watching “British” films) are the accents. The cast is, of course, all British and things tend to get a bit garbled. I realize it’s not a fault of the audio itself, rather it’s just that I’m American and it’s sometimes tough to decipher what’s being said. That and I refuse to use closed captions. All in all, it’s a nice, well-rounded mix that’s not going to win any awards for sound but adequately gets the job done.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Making The Duke – The only included feature plays just 23 seconds longer than the trailer (included) and gives us what we’d expect, some scenes from the film as well as some comments from the actors and late director Roger Michell.
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Bottom Line

The Duke is, well, just a good movie. It features a great cast and Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren turn in great performances as per usual. Then again they’ve had several decades to hone their skills, so it should come as no surprise. I learned that you have to pay for television in the UK and that this crime was actually committed. Sony’s disc looks good but is rather lacking in the supplemental department. You’d have figured they’d have done a tribute featurette to the director, Roger Michell who died in Sept. 2021. Nevertheless, this is one worth watching.

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