There’s something almost supernaturally enjoyable about putting two legendary, Oscar-winning British movie stars in a movie and just listening to them talk.
What’s particularly joyful about “The Duke” is that not only do Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren chitchat with their delightful English accents, but they inhabit their characters so deeply and wisely, that when someone offers a cup of tea , you say by reflex: “Yes, please, thank you.”
“The Duke” is a sweet British comedy about a real event. In 1961, the portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Spanish artist Francisco Goya in the early 1800s was purchased by the National Gallery in London. It is the Wellington of Waterloo and Napoleon Bonaparte. A few weeks after purchasing the painting, it was stolen. If social networks existed, the news would instantly have gone viral.
Scotland Yard insisted the theft was the work of a brilliant criminal mastermind and his clever gang. The truth was quite different. A curmudgeonly guy named Kempton Bunton (played by Broadbent), who does odd jobs for a living, took the painting. Why Bunton stole the artwork is a delightful historical footnote to this cheeky cox.
He took it as a form of civilized protest against the tax that Britons pay to own televisions and radios. Home licenses are required. The money goes to the BBC.
Bunton, who is a gentle gentleman and protests many other things, didn’t think it was fair that older people had to pay the tax. It was a cause he felt really passionate about, and by the time the movie comes to its conclusion in the courtroom, you might feel just as passionate.
Bunton insists the TV tax is a heavy burden on everyone, especially the elderly. He carries signs during his crusade and speaks on street corners. One of his arguments is that television helps fight loneliness and the tax will make people sad.
Depending on minor variables, the cost of the TV license in the early 1960s was four pounds sterling per set. Today it’s £157 for a color TV and £53 for black and white.
‘The Duke’ is directed by Roger Michell, who directed the wonderful ‘Notting Hill’, and is written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman. He plays at the North Park Theater in the Buffalo-Niagara metro.
The film gains momentum as it progresses. Broadbent delivers a performance that is exactly what we want a quirky guy to perform. His comedic timing is impeccable. Mirren has less to do, but she does it brilliantly. The moment she finds out what her husband has achieved is priceless. Called to be a strong presence in their home without undermining her fierce resolve, Mirren delivers an acting lesson that alone is worth the price of admission.
The Bunton family, which includes a son, is a close-knit working-class family, and you enjoy their camaraderie and the pleasant banter of ordinary people. They have their sweet eccentricities, and director Michell and his writers capture the everyday moments of their lives with aplomb.
The painting heist was a sensational episode in Britain and it quickly became part of the country’s cultural web. There’s a fabulous inside joke in ‘Dr. No’, the first James Bond film. In the 1962 adventure, you can see Goya’s ‘Portrait of the Duke of Wellington’ in the villain’s hideout.
With Broadbent’s sincere and attractive thug – his eyes inviting you to share in his joy at being famous – and thanks to Mirren’s concerned and loving wife, “The Duke” offers audience scenes for the ages, an abundance of smiles and an entertaining history lesson.
GOSPEL MUSIC AND THE ROCK AND ROLL FOUNDATION
After watching the new documentary ‘How They Got Over’, you may have no doubts about the roots of rock and roll. Director Robert Clem focuses on the gospel quartets of the 1920s through the 1940s and their all-encompassing and overriding influence on the music that rocked recording charts in the 1950s and 1960s.
A parade of extraordinary African-American musicians, including singer and magic guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, takes audiences on a groundbreaking exploration of how gospel music has changed the psyche of American teenagers.
The legendary Tharpe was the first gospel artist to sign a deal with a major record label. Richly detailed archival footage and interviews feature lead singer Ira Tucker of the Dixie Hummingbirds, Clarence Fountain of the Blind Boys Of Harlem, Isaac Freeman of The Fairfield Four, rhythm and blues singer Otis Clay, disc jockey Linwood Heath and Joyce Jackson, a vital gospel music historian.
Clem lets the music flow, which is a cinematic blessing. Many songs are presented in their entirety or almost. Look at JoJo Wallace of the Sensational Nightingales, the Barrett Sisters and Dennis Edwards, who would become the frontman of The Temptations. Edwards’ knowledge of gender transition and blending is a highlight. Mighty Clouds’ Joe Ligon slides and turns with control.
“How They Got Over” is available on DVD, through Virtual Cinema and streaming. It follows the music spawned by the church through its beautiful celebratory harmonies to the concept of flowing gospel, one of the stylists of the latter being Sam Cooke, who became a crossover hit. You might just dance while watching this glorious film.
Michael Calleri reviews films for the CNHI news network. Contact him at [email protected]