The Duke:”Don Quixote versus the Duke of Wellington”
Kempton Bunton is a hero. He doesn’t wear a cape with the letter “K” emblazoned on his chest. He doesn’t leap over tall buildings in a single bound. Instead, he wears a crumpled trench coat, a trilby hat and carries a megaphone. The megaphone is his weapon, a weapon that allows him to shout his message to anyone who will listen. He’s on a mission to improve conditions for the the common good. He’s not a superhero but a hero for the common person.
Kempton (Jim Broadbent) has a fundamental belief in helping people who struggle against insurmountable odds with a fervent belief that one can improve conditions for ordinary people. Don’t get the impression that Kempton is a well-to-do individual who is acting on a need to contribute in a humanitarian way. He and his wife Dorothy (Helen Mirren) are battlers themselves.
Kempton, his son Jackie, & Dorothy
Kempton is a retired bus driver who gets work to assist their living conditions while Dorothy works as a cleaner for a middle class family. They have a place to live, can afford to eat and pay their BBC television license, although the television license only gets paid at Dorothy’s insistence and by robbing the savings jar in the kitchen because Kempton resists paying what he believes is an unjust impost on working families.
There’s the bind for Dorothy. Kempton’s fight to improve conditions for pensioners and veterans and, in one instance, standing up against a racist manager in a bakery, means he loses his employment. The flow-on effect means Dorothy has to stretch the budget to make ends meet. Their son is an intermediary who encourages his father’s social conscience while calming the waters when Kempton’s actions cause Dorothy to become a whirlwind of annoyance and despair.
Kempton’s idea to steal Spanish artist Francisco Goya's painting of The Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery reaches the pinnacle of his plans to help improve the common good. He decides that he should steal the painting, worth several hundred thousand pounds, and donate the ransom money to ordinary people to pay for their television licenses and provide food for their families. The Duke of Wellington, a nobleman of hereditary rank, may be the subject of the portrait but it is Kempton who is real noble man, both in the sense of being a man of high moral principles and, in the colloquial sense, a man who puts up his metaphorical fists to fight for a noble cause.
However, there’s a slight problem with Kempton's plan to steal the protrait. It is illegal and he will most likely receive a lengthy prison sentence for his efforts. Kempton is used to being thrown into prison for his public displays of his social conscience but this offence will result in a long prison sentence which will impact his family, especially Dorothy. The effect on Dorothy will be more profound because she is totally unaware of his plans. There’s also the problem of stealing a renowned painting from a national gallery.
You guessed it. He does it anyway. Kempton’s appearance in court and the trial surrounding the theft is a tour-de-force of comedic delivery. The scriptwriters Richard Bean and Clive Coleman deserve a mention for their skilled writing. Jim Broadbent is superb.
You can look at Kempton and Dorothy as conventional character types—the long suffering wife and the old pensioner who fights for truth, justice and fairness—but the performances by seasoned actors Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren surpass the potential for stereotypes and excel at creating characters with hearts the size of a planet and an endearing nature. They not only care for their neighbours and their family, they care deeply for each other, including realising their flaws and lovingly accepting one another's human weaknesses and frailties.
Kempton Bunton is a version of Miguel de Cervantes’ hero Don Quixote in the book Don Quixote, a pretend knight who charges against windmills in the belief they are giants that must be defeated. The term quixotic has come to mean "the impractical pursuit of idealistic goals". Kempton certainly fits that mould. Dorothy’s constant displeasure is underwritten by a belief in Kempton’s character and goodwill; Jacki encourages Kempton's social conscience and desire to highlight social inequities while soothing his mother’s frustration; Kempton himself realises he is an imperfect human being but continues to fight against the windmills of government indifference in the hope that one day he will achieve a small victory.
There is a significant social message underlying The Duke about governments being held accountable for the conditions and circumstances surrounding social disadvantage within a society. Dorothy and Kempton’s life as struggling pensioners and the issues surrounding their sons and their pursuits to get ahead in life cause additional pressures in the family. None of this overwhelms the story.
The Duke is not a heavy handed critique of social inequity. It highlights the triumph of an individual and his strongly held values and how they can change things, even if in small ways, and the value of a genuine human capacity to live life, even under difficult circumstances.
You won’t regret meeting Kempton and Dorothy. They are delightful and The Duke is a gem.
Official Trailer The Duke
All photo stills & official trailer © Transmission Films
FILM EXTRAS: FOR THE COMMON GOOD
I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a 59-year-old widowed carpenter who must rely on welfare after a recent heart attack leaves him unable to work. Despite his doctor's diagnosis, British authorities deny Blake's benefits and tell him to return to his job. As Daniel navigates his way through an agonizing appeal process, he begins to develop a strong bond with a destitute, single mother (Hayley Squires) who's struggling to take care of her two children.
Local Hero (1983)
Houston oil executive "Mac" MacIntyre (Peter Riegert) gets more than he bargained for when a seemingly simple business trip to Scotland changes his outlook on life. Sent by his boss (Burt Lancaster) to the small village of Ferness, Mac is looking to quickly buy out the townspeople so his company can build a new refinery. But after a taste of country life, Mac begins to question whether he is on the right side of this transaction.
Brassed Off (1997)
In a village in Northern England, Danny (Pete Postlethwaite), the conductor of a colliery brass band, has difficulty maintaining the morale of his musicians when the economic future of the area is threatened by the possibility that the local coal mine will be closed. When a former resident, Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald), returns to assess the mine, she gets involved with her former flame, Andy (Ewan McGregor), as well as joining the band in their last hurrah at a national competition.
The Full Monty (1997)
After losing his job at a steel factory, Gaz (Robert Carlyle) learns that his wife wants to sue him for missed child support payments. Desperate for money, Gaz and his friend Dave (Mark Addy) decide to create their own male strip-tease act. The two friends recruit four more men, including their former foreman (Tom Wilkinson) and a security guard (Steve Huison). The group promises that their show will succeed because they are willing to go "the Full Monty", that is, completely naked.
Straitlaced Errol Wallace (Anthony Hopkins) is tasked with traveling to the small Australian town of Spotswood to help the befuddled Mr. Ball (Alwyn Kurts) and his ramshackle moccasin company make their products in a more efficient manner. Although the employees of the factory are decidedly quirky, both in personality and production methodology, Wallace's fondness for their eccentricities inspires him to search for a way to increase productivity without leaving any of the workers unemployed.