'The Duke' review: An art heist for the people

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren star in this based-on-a-true-story tale of a famous painting gone missing and the reason why.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "The Duke," a charmingly offbeat British import, Jim Broadbent plays a commoner who's out to stick it to the man. 

Nothing wrong with that. And there's nothing wrong with this sweet-natured comic-drama, a kindly sendoff for director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill"), who died last year after his completion of the film. 

Jim Broadbent in "The Duke."

Broadbent is Kempton Bunton, a Newcastle man in his 60s who is jailed for watching TV without a license. See, in the British Islands, up until recently viewers were required to have a license to watch telly, and Bunton's protest — Free TV for the OAP, or people collecting a pension — was his way of sticking up for the common man and his socialist beliefs. He had the means for a license, but refused to get one on principle. 

Bunton eventually gets his eyes on a portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya, which is worth some £140,000, which could certainly fund a lot of those TV licenses. When the painting goes missing and ends up in Bunton's possession — hmm, how did that happen? — Bunton attempts to exchange it for help with his Robin Hood cause. He eventually ends up on trial for its theft and becomes something of a folk hero, due to his whimsy on the witness stand.

Broadbent, an Oscar winner for his work in "Iris" 20 years ago, is nothing if not delightful; Helen Mirren adds class as his wife, while Matthew Goode (as Bunton's attorney) and Fionn Whitehead (as his son) help round out the cast. 

Based on a true story, "The Duke" is one of those movies that features a courthouse scene that turns into a standup routine, with courtroom crowds erupting into cheers like they're at a sporting event. It's all very sweet and light, with a message about the importance of standing up for one's beliefs at its center. Nothing wrong with that at all. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'The Duke'

GRADE: B

Rated R: for language and brief sexuality

Running time: 95 minutes

In theaters