Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren in “The Duke” (2020). IMDb photo

In 1961, Kempton Bunton, a gnarly 60-year-old taxi driver and backstreet Birmingham, England’s activist for elderly rights, was under daily police harassment for not paying his television tax. (By law, each household in the UK has to pay the license fee, with some exemptions)

Here, Kempton, in “The Duke,” the late Roger Michell’s sweet-and-charming sentimental tale, is played by England’s pride and joy, Jim Broadbent (“The Crying Game”) ,who also won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for his supporting role as John Bayley in the feature film “Iris.”

“The Duke” is, for those old enough to remember, a throwback to the Great Depression days of Frank Capra’s heart-tugging rosary of working-class tales of survival.

Bunton’s travails are set in 1961 in Maurice Harold Macmillan’s Britain, when things were hit-and-miss for the retired and pensioned elderly.

Here then, in our story, arises the mighty Kempton Bunton, a seedy, shambling Robin Hood-in-raincoat hero who holds street-corner tirades.

Michell’s story slowly takes on a glow when Bunton comes up with a shambolic, dangerous plan to get the attention of the government.


The plan takes form when the rainy street’s Don Quixote devises a plan to case London’s famed National Gallery and carry out the theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington, after which a series of ransom notes hits the government’s high offices. “Relive the pain of the elderly, and The Duke” will be returned.

Our Frank Capra had Lionel Barrymore and Spring Byington, Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur to sell his story.

Michell (“Noting Hill,” “Enduring Love”) was lucky to have the gifts of Britain’s wonderful Jim Broadbent and Dame Helen Mirren (“The Queen”). Those two alone, plus Richard Bean and Clive Coleman’s script, are additives enough to brighten this cup of tea.

We are given the glorious Mirren as Bunton’s frustrated stay-at-home wife Dorothy, who is weary of struggling along with her stocking full of pence, when her bloviating hubby keeps losing job after job, defending the rights of the local elderly who would rather he sit down and shut up. It’s bad enough that she have to spend each day suffering the loss of her adult daughter.

Kenton does have the love of his adoring son Jackie (Fionn Whitehead in “Dunkirk”), who, when the rubber hits the pavement, is willing enough to take the blame for the theft of the famous Goya portrait. Will it work?

The supporting cast is a catalog of lovely Brits, notability the cool, tall and handsome Matthew Goode (“The Crown,” “Downton Abbey”) as Kempton’s bewigged and sympathetic defense lawyer.


The final scenes in the courtroom with sympathetic bewigged stoic justices is right out of Capra’s playbook, with the public balcony full of Bunton’s cheering street fans, and Kempton’s working-class ad-libs keeping the jury and judges hiding their smiles.

I must add that the verdict comes with the balcony’s standing chorus rendition of William Blake’s “Jerusalem,” which never fails to bring me to my feet. Go ahead, stand up.

Cinematographer Mike Eley’s camera beautifully captures “Birmy’s” potholed backstreets, and is aided by George Fenton’s evocative and whimsical music.

From scene one to the unexpected judgment finale, you’ll be asked to support Kempton Bunton. Let’s see the hands.

“The Duke” opens at Waterville’s Railroad Square Cinema on May 6. You’re welcome.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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