The portrait of the Duke, the incredible true story behind the film with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren

From today in the rooms a wonderfully inspiring story, The Portrait of the Duke, which tells the story of a well-known theft of art by an unlikely thief, played by Jim Broadbent. Also in the cast is Helen Mirren.

The portrait of the Dukein cinemas from March 3, last fiction direction of the late lamented Roger Michell (former author of Notting Hill), you see Jim Broadbent in the shoes of a retiree who in 1961 stole a painting from the National Gallery in London. An impossible undertaking for an incredible and ironic one true storywhich we want to tell you here, also focusing on the film, starring Broadbent with Helen Mirren.

The portrait of the Duke, the strange true story of Kempton Bunton, the conscientious objector to the TV canon

Who was Kempton Bunton (1904-1976), who in 1961 mocked Scotland Yard, stealing from the National Gallery in London on “Portrait of the Duke of Wellington“, painted by Francisco Goya between 1812 and 1814? Was Kempton perhaps a new Arsenius Lupine or, given the atmosphere, a diabolical emulator of Professor Moriarty? None of this: he was simply a retired bus driver, who had already made himself known by the police for a personal crusade. Kempton in fact considered it immoral to force retirees, with little money available, to pay the TV license, so much so that his protests had even taken him to prison. When in 1961 a wealthy American art collector bought the aforementioned painting for 140,000 pounds at the time, with the idea of ​​taking the work with him to the other side of the ocean, the British government was quick to offer him the same sum. to buy it back. The astronomical figure outraged Kempton.

The portrait of the Duke, the perfect or almost perfect crime according to Kempton Bunton

After learning that i alarm systems of the National Gallery were turned off early in the morning for cleaning, Kempton had the crazy idea, on the morning of August 21, 1961, to enter the museum and take away the painting. Shortly after, an anonymous letter received by the Reuters news agency requested that, in exchange for the restitution, 140,000 pounds should be donated to the payment of the TV license for the pooralso ensuring impunity for the thief.
At the foreseeable refusal of the authorities, Kempton kept the painting with him for four years, until in 1965 he did not returned anonymously, for then be constituted one and a half months after the return. Paradoxically, he was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment just for the theft of the frame (which he did not return), but not for the theft of the actual painting, because according to himself and according to the defense, his purpose had never been to steal it for himself. He was helped by a legal quibble which then an update of the laws of 1968, precisely following his gesture, rectified, making the unauthorized removal of an object exposed to the public a crime already.
But it was really Kempton who had stolen The portrait of the Duke? From the beginning it was assumed that the material displacement of the painting was done by someone else. Only in 2012 was a document made public related to the arrest in 1969 (for other reasons) of Kempton’s son, John, for another crime: in that circumstance John admitted that it was he who took the painting, to pass it on to his father. , for the purposes of his protest campaign. Apparently Kempton wanted to protect John and his other “accomplice” son, Kenneth, from arrest. Kempton was not imprisoned again for false testimony: the new trial should have been based on the words of John, considered “unreliable witness”, so the question was closed there … also because the work had returned to its place, where it still is.

The portrait of the Duke, the James Bond gag

The theft of the Portrait of the Duke of Goya affected British public opinion so much that it became a joke in the first film by James Bond 007alias Sean Connery: in Agent 007 – License to Kill (1962), the production designer Ken Adam he recreated the painting (still hidden by Kempton at the time), starting from archive images. The copy was placed in the imagination den of dr. No, where in fact Bond remains petrified in recognizing the stolen work of art. Today it would be called an “easter egg”, the meaning of which sixty years later could be completely lost. But this feature lends a hand to better immerse ourselves in British popular culture of the period.

The portrait of the Duke, the latest film by Roger Michell

Director Roger Michell it was a guarantee for the comedy, and his The portrait of the Duke is no exception, even if it belongs to a different sub-genre from the sentimental comedy of his other most famous film, Notting Hill. The feature was shot shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic, but Roger died in September 2021 before it was finally released. However, it is not Michell’s last work ever, as her posthumous documentary is currently in post-production Elizabeth: A Portrait in Partsdedicated to Elizabeth II.
Formidable actor from the best British school, Jim Broadbent brings Kempton to the screen. Born in 1949, Broadbent has won only one Oscarfor Best Supporting Role in Iris – A true love (2001), where she starred with Judi Dench, but also got one Volpi Cup for its interpretation in Topsy Turvy (1999) by Mike Leigh. Helen Mirren instead she plays Dorothy Bunton, Kempton’s wife, understandably astonished by her husband’s gesture. It is the second time that Broadbent and Mirren interpret the same film, because in 2008 there was the fantasy ensemble Inkheart – The legend of Heart of Inkhowever, it is the first in which they interact in such an extensive way: one more reason to have fun with The Portrait of the Duke.
See also
The portrait of the Duke: video interview with Jim Broadbent and Roger Michell and an exclusive preview clip

The portrait of the Duke, the incredible true story behind the film with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren