Based on a true story, THE DUKE is a delightful and touching, but flawed, British comedy. Jim Broadbent plays 60-year-old taxi driver Kempton Bunton, who lives in Newcastle with his wife, Dorothy, who works as a cleaning woman for wealthy families. An unsuccessful playwright, Kempton works as a taxi driver. He’s also obsessed with social causes, especially looking out for veterans and elderly people cut off from society because of poverty. He becomes outraged by the government buying an expensive painting of Duke Wellington. He involves his younger son in the painting’s theft.
THE DUKE is delightful and touching, but flawed, even though it’s a comic gem. Jim Broadbent delivers a masterful performance as the lead character. The movie’s plot and characters are very entertaining and promote some positive values that are pro-family, conservative and redemptive. For example, the movie promotes family reconciliation, self-sacrifice, charity, caring for other people, and opposition to unjust taxes. However, THE DUKE is marred by some moral relativism that sides with the painting’s theft, a brief bedroom scene, five “f” words, and strong profanities. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for THE DUKE.
(Pa, FR, BB, C, So, P, AC, LL, SS, A, D, MM):
Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:
Light, mixed pagan worldview promotes some moral relativism and an antinomian or lawless attitude toward a crime, but this immoral, pagan content is mitigated by strong pro-family elements, a positive attitude toward helping other people and charity, a concern for lonely elderly people and the poor, and a redemptive act of self-sacrifice, along with at least two positive references to Jesus (including a reference to the “Lamb of God”) a plus a socialist, pro-worker attitude is briefly expressed a few times, but the lead character has a concern for veterans and an anti-government attitude toward unjust taxes
17 obscenities (including five “f” words), four Jesus profanities and three light profanities
Briefly depicted fornication in one scene
Brief alcohol use
Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:
Brief smoking but no drugs; and,
Stealing, getting away with stealing, lying, government stupidity, man says he has “faith, not in God but people,” and man has written a play envisioning an alternate history where Jesus was a woman, titled “The Adventures of Susan Christ.”
Based on a true story, THE DUKE is a delightful and touching, but flawed, British comedy about a 60-year-old, chronic and cantankerous do-gooder and unsuccessful playwright, who decides to teach the British government of 1961 a lesson by stealing a famous painting of Duke Wellington by Goya. THE DUKE has some moral relativism in it that sides with the theft of the painting and is marred by a brief bedroom scene and eight strong obscenities and profanities, but the plot and characters are very entertaining and promote some positive values that are pro-family, conservative and redemptive.
Jim Broadbent plays 60-year-old taxi driver Kempton Bunton, who lives in Newcastle with his wife, Dorothy, who works as a cleaning woman for wealthy families. Dorothy is upset with Kempton’s obsession with social causes, especially his campaign against the license fee the British government charges citizens for watching the BBC. Kempton also spends a lot of time writing plays, but keeps getting rejected, even for his latest play, which reimagines the New Testament if Jesus were a woman.
Kempton comes home from work one day when he spies a government officials checking if people in the neighborhood have paid their TV license fees. He asks his adult son, Jackie, to stall the officials for a few minutes so Kempton can remove the BBC tuner from the back of the television.
A few minutes later, the officials come to their house and question Kempton about not paying the license fee. Kempton tells them their TV doesn’t have a BBC tuner, so they only watch the private channel on the TV, ITV. So, he refuses to pay the fee. He also tells them the government should at least offer free BBC to the nation’s elderly people, especially Old Age Pensioners. The officials aren’t impressed with Kempton’s arguments, and 13 days later Jackie picks him up from serving several days in jail.
That day, Kempton becomes outraged when the government holds a press conference in London where officials say they’ve helped pay 140,000 pounds to buy a Goya painting of Duke Wellington, the hero of the Battle of Waterloo, so that the painting isn’t bought by an American museum. They could have spent that money to pay the TV license fees of elderly pensioners, he tells his wife, Dorothy.
The next day, Kempton is fired from his taxi driving job when his boss finds out Kempton didn’t charge an elderly war veteran his fare. Of course, the news disturbs Dorothy. She thinks Kempton is wasting his life writing plays and getting involved in lost causes like the one about the TV license fees.
So, Kempton makes a deal with Dorothy. He asks her to let him go to London for two days to plead the TV license fee case for the elderly to Parliament. If he fails to make any headway, he will stop his social activism altogether. Reluctantly, Dorothy agrees.
In London, however, Kempton makes little progress. While there, the news about the Goya painting is still raging. Many people are lining up to view the painting at the National Gallery. So, Kempton goes to see the painting, which isn’t very large, for himself.
Cut to someone hiding under a tarp outside at the National Gallery where some painting materials are being stored. The man climbs out from under the tarp and creeps up a ladder to a bathroom window, enters the building and steals the Goya painting of Duke Wellington.
Back in Newcastle, Kempton and his son look at the stolen painting, without its frame, in the guest room. Kempton asks Jackie to build a secret compartment to hide the painting from Dorothy in the back of the wardrobe.
Kempton is true to his word to Dorothy. He gets a new job at a large bakery and stops working on the TV license fee and other causes. However, he starts writing secret ransom notes to the government, saying that he will return the painting if they give him 140,000 pounds to give to charity to help the elderly. A handwriting expert tells government officials the note was written by a middle-aged person in the North who’s obsessed with local activism. However, they dismiss her opinion and continue to look for a small international gang of Mafia criminals as the culprits behind the painting’s theft.
Meanwhile, Kempton and Dorothy’s older son, Kenny, a petty criminal, has returned home to stay for a few days in the guest room. Eventually, Kenny’s girlfriend, Pamela, a married woman estranged from her husband, finds the painting in the closet. She secretly approaches Kempton and offers to split the reward money by turning the painting into the police. However, Kempton tells Pamela the reward money isn’t enough money to do the charitable things he wants to do. Pamela tells him she’ll turn him into the police and take the reward for herself if he doesn’t do as she suggests.
Kempton decides the only thing for him to do is travel to London and turn in himself and the painting to the police. He hopes the authorities will go easy on him, but will they?
THE DUKE is a delightful and touching, but flawed, comic gem. The movie is filled with wonderful comic lines. For instance, when his attorney asks Kempton, on the stand at his trial, if he’s married, Kempton replies, “I had to marry.” “Had to marry?” the attorney asks, fearing the worst. “I was in love,” Kempton says.
Jim Broadbent gives a masterful performance as the frustrated playwright and Quixotic defender of the elderly, especially war veterans and elderly people cut off from society because of poverty. The tone of his performance, and the movie, isn’t totally comic, though. For example, Kempton Bunton believed television could be one solution to elderly people’s loneliness. That’s why he campaigned for them to get free BBC licenses. In court, Kempton gives a clever, funny and moving defense of his moral philosophy and why he took the painting.
Also, it turns out that he and his wife, Dorothy, are still mourning the death of their teenage daughter, Miranda, who died in a cycling accident after Kempton bought her a bicycle. Kempton feels guilty about buying her the bicycle and has written a play about a girl and a bicycle. Dorothy is so wracked by grief, however, that she can’t bring herself to visit Miranda’s gravesite. A subplot in THE DUKE involves Dorothy, played by Helen Mirren in an excellent performance, coming across a copy of her husband’s play, tucked under a beautiful photograph of their daughter. The ending resolves this subplot in a charming, very moving way.
(Fun Fact: Kempton Bunton and his son didn’t return the painting until 1965, four years after they had stolen it. So, in the 1962 James Bond movie DR. NO, as Bond walks into Dr. No’s fancy lair, he spies the painting on an easel prominently placed next to a small stairway. “So, there it is,” Bond says.)
Despite all the humorous, touching moments in THE DUKE, the movie contains lots of foul language, including five “f” words and four strong Jesus profanities. Also, there’s a brief crude scene where the older son makes love to his girlfriend.
In addition to the crude content in THE DUKE, the movie sides with Kempton’s morally relativistic defense in court of his theft of the painting. The movie’s presentation of the story encourages viewers to side with Kempton’s efforts to get the jury to acquit him. As the judge himself notes during the trial, though, society can’t allow people just to “borrow” something for a little while, even if they have the intention of returning it someday. Apparently, there was a loophole in the law at the time that said a thief had to have a selfish motive if he steals something from the government. Since Kempton’s motive involved giving the ransom money to charity, he personally wasn’t going to profit from stealing the painting anyway.
Despite these moral problems, the movie contains a nice twist at the end that involves a case of self-sacrifice. THE DUKE also supports Kempton’s anti-governmental attitude. Though his attitude is slightly socialistic and pro-worker, it also attacks big government’s high tax policies and its tendency to spend taxpayer money on frivolous or questionable things. The movie also clearly sides with his belief that the TV license fee is an unjust tax. THE DUKE also has a strong pro-family attitude. Eventually, Kempton and Dorothy are reconciled, and their grief, if not totally healed, is at least ameliorated.
All in all, therefore, MOVIEGUIDE® only advises extreme caution.
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