Synopsis: 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.
Stars: Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead, Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Goode
Director: Roger Michell
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: I know you’ve been wondering, so I’m going to break the suspense. I’m often asked what’s the worst thing about reviewing movies. Simple question, easy answer: reviewing good actors in a not-so-great film. You’d think it would be painless to review bad movies, but it’s honestly not fun because, as a true-blue movie fan, you want to like everything you see. They can’t all be winners, though, and sometimes they are downright stinkers. That’s the case of The Duke, a doubly sad affair because it is the final film from director Roger Michell, who passed away in September 2021.
I had an inkling the film was in trouble because it had been moved around in the release schedule so many times, and for a small movie with two Oscar-winning stars in the middle of awards season, that’s an odd occurrence. While it picked up a few nominations in the UK, groups shut the movie out of any awards discussion stateside, and you can see why. It’s a total turkey, a dramedy without much moving drama or witty comedy to prove a worthwhile watch to fans of anyone involved. Also, there’s something to be said that the trailer for the film gives away absolutely everything that happens in the movie.
Dry to the point of breaking into a million pieces, the story of a London taxi driver (Jim Broadbent, Dolittle) who stole a priceless portrait from the National Gallery and became a hometown legend after he confesses feels like a slam dunk. Yet as played by Broadbent, the character is so unlikable, dotty, and disagreeable from the start that you aren’t ever convinced to be on his side, at least not long enough to stand with him against the government which was determined to prosecute him. It’s also hard to warm to his wife, played with typical stiff upper lip gusto by Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold). While Mirren’s resolve works typically to her favor, it offers her nowhere emotionally to grow, certainly not in her relationship with her husband and definitely not with their son, Fionn Whitehead (Voyagers).
Michell directed many films that had charm coming at you from all angles (hello, Notting Hill!), but The Duke is curiously absent of anything resembling persuasive charisma, and I was eternally grateful it clocked in at a decently short 96 minutes. Anything longer would have been a true prison sentence for audiences.