The Duke Parent Guide
This film is a reminder that some of the best stories come from real life.
Parent Movie Review
There’s a British word, “dottiness”, that perfectly describes someone who is a trifle mad or eccentric. Such a man is Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent). The retired bus driver bounces from job to job while writing plays in his free time, hoping to see them produced on air. His real obsession, however, is his campaign to give senior citizens (Old Age Pensioners or OAPs) free TV licenses.
TV licenses are foreign to North Americans but are a fact of life in the UK. All owners of television sets are required to pay an annual fee which is dedicated to funding the operations of the BBC. Driven by his principles, Kempton Bunton goes to war with the license regime on two fronts. Personally, his refusal to pay the license fee sees him thrown in jail for a few days. On a broader scale, he mounts a public campaign, urging the government to give pensioners and veterans free TV licenses. His campaign receives little attention until a spectacular crime thrusts him into the limelight.
In 1961, the National Gallery spends £140,000 (a vast sum at the time) to purchase Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Within weeks, the painting is stolen in what police describe as a daring heist carried out by sophisticated international art thieves. When Kempton Bunton returns the painting and confesses to the theft, his trial becomes a cause célèbre, illuminating his idealism and the plight of Britain’s poor.
The Duke is a reminder that some of the best stories come from history. Kempton Bunton was a real person, and although this film abridges and adapts the historical record, it’s based on actual events – and the court scenes come from the record. They are richly comic and clearly demonstrate why Bunton became a folk hero in his day. Surprisingly, the film isn’t the screwball comedy one might expect based on the plot; it’s more a nuanced family drama that adeptly mixes heartache and dry British humor.
The family drama gives The Duke its depth – and its problematic content issues. The Bunton family is struggling. Dorothy Bunton (Helen Mirren), preoccupied with the family’s budget and respectability, is frustrated by her husband’s chronic unemployment and embarrassed by his activism and jail time. She’s also worried about her sons and their brushes with the criminal law. The entire family grieves the long-ago death of a daughter – a loss which continues to tear at the relationship between Dorothy and Kempton.
Despite its comic elements and family themes, The Duke contains a surprising amount of negative content. There are a half dozen completely unnecessary uses of a sexual expletive and a smattering of other curse words. There is also a scene of heavily implied sexual activity between unmarried adults. They are clothed and seen from the shoulders up, but the thrusting and panting make the activity obvious. Once again, this is unnecessary: while the escapade leads to a critical plot point, passionate kissing could have accomplished the same result. As a family movie critic, I find this intensely frustrating. The Duke is a compelling film that can prompt deep discussions with teens about means and ends, ethical relativism, activism, integrity, self-sacrifice, family loyalty, and grief, amongst other serious topics. But thanks to its well-deserved Restricted rating, the movie won’t be seen by as broad an audience as it otherwise could. That’s a disappointment because there’s a lot here to like. The performances are superb, the laughs hit home, and the story is intriguing. That Kempton Bunton’s story won’t enjoy a broader viewing audience is a real disappointment – and an avoidable one.Directed by Roger Michell. Starring Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead. Running time: 96 minutes. Theatrical release April 22, 2022. Updated April 22, 2022
Watch the trailer for The Duke
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Duke rated R? The Duke is rated R by the MPAA for language and brief sexuality.
Violence: There’s mention of a person dying in a bike crash.
Sexual Content: There’s brief mention of adultery and possible pregnancy. A person mentions testicles and a slang term is used later. A man comments on a woman’s posterior. A man and woman kiss. A fully clothed couple are implied to be having sex (thrusting and panting) but they are not seen below the shoulders. A couple kiss passionately. There is brief breast nudity in the context of an art class.
Profanity: Profanity in the film includes a half dozen sexual expletives, three scatological curses, two mild swear words, and nine terms of deity. There are also mentions of male sexual anatomy, both using correct terms and crude slang. A racial slur is aimed at a Pakistani man.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults smoke cigarettes in several scenes. Adults drink alcohol while watching TV. Adults drink beer in a pub.
Page last updated April 22, 2022
The Duke Parents' Guide
Do you think it’s ever acceptable to break the law “for the greater good”? If so, how would you define “the greater good”? Who should have the ability to define it?
Can you think of people in history who have broken the law for good reasons? What made their decisions morally justifiable? Do you think Kempton Bunton’s behavior was equally acceptable?
For more information about the real life Kempton Bunton and the theft of the Goya portrait, you can follow these links:
Wikipedia: Kempton Bunton
BBC News: The Duke: Why my family stole a masterpiece portrait
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