The Duke

COMIC DRAMA; 1hr 36min

STARRING: Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead

Just folks: Broadbent and Mirren

Conviction is a wonderful thing in Notting Hill director Roger Michell’s true-life quirkfest — the act of being convicted, not so much. The year is 1961, and 60-year-old Newcastle cab driver Kempton Bunton (Broadbent) is up in arms about paying for the TV licence he refuses to have, which like the little black-and-white boxes that were televisions back then, seems a ye olde bagatelle in today’s almighty streaming.


Specifically, Kempton wants the licences to be free to British senior cits, for whom the little boxes are a refuge from loneliness. And he isn’t afraid to turn attitude into action, doing 13 days’ jail time for non-compliance, protesting to anyone who will listen (that would be no one), then in a suggested stroke of daredevilry, “borrowing” Francisco Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery under cover of darkness. (Or does he? That would be telling.)


With the help of his son Jackie (Whitehead), Kempton conceals the Duke in a remodelled bedroom closet, ransoms the £140,000 painting for social benefits, then calmly returns it and steps up in court to protest his innocence.


Just as Kempton occupied a lot of space, this is Broadbent’s show all the way. Unlike a frumpified Mirren, who essentially has one dimension to play with as Kempton’s disapproving housekeeper wife, Dorothy, her professionally rumpled co-star is in his endearing element. The period settings are the real suburban deal as well, with every tea cosy and string of pearls statements of a suffocation that rare bird Kempton refuses to accept. He’s a tub-thumping cross for Dorothy to bear, but the lionhearted wear many deceptive faces.