THE DUKE** A Pauper


THE DUKE IS Roger Mitchell’s latest and last movie. The well-known British director (Notting Hill, My Cousin Rachel, The Mother etc.) died late last year. He deserved a better farewell memory.

The story is about the theft of a famous Goya painting, the eponymous duke (or Wellington) and an old man’s quixotic desire to use the ransom from this to provide free BBC licenses to all British OAP’s. 
The movie joins a very long list of British movies that romanticize a much-loved British archetype: that of the slightly eccentric, big hearted, self-deprecating and somewhat naive charmer. For years, Hugh Grant personified this character. He’s the man (it’s always men) Brits love to root behind, just as the very, very aged audience who came along to view this movie yesterday, did.

The problem that (I assume) confronted Mitchell was that he was clearly hamstrung by the reality of the ‘true-life’ of the story. The movie is built around the quasi comedic foundations of a fun idea: “Experts and authorities confounded as eccentric pensioner heists masterpiece in Robin Hood quest to benefit others”. But these audience pleasing foundations cannot bear the weight of the story’s grim realities.
For the eccentric protagonist (Jim Broadbent) is simply a delusional old man, adrift from reality, incapable of holding down a job, in and out of prison and serially lying to his wife. She, poor despairing woman, is a maid, working her fingers to the bone to make ends meet, and none too happy with her husband’s juvenile irresponsibility. Her two sons are less than law abiding citizens.

This clash of realities results in a movie that works very hard to offer light-hearted entertainment without being able to either accommodate or transcend its darker, sadder truths.

Certainly there are some very funny moments during a courtroom drama that pits ‘us ordinary folk’ against ‘stuffy pompous authority’. (A cliched clash that’s always a crowd-pleaser). And Helen Mirren, in particular, is tremendous, as the life-hardened centre of her feckless family. Production Designer, Kristian Milstead has also done an impressive job of creating the suffocating fussiness of their shabby interiors.

But Mitchell needed to have made the artistic choice between ‘Notting Hill for geriatrics’ or ‘Family Angst for the Bafta’s crowd’.

Instead The Duke is less masterpiece, more paint by numbers.

THE DUKE. Dir: Roger Mitchell  Roger Mitchell. Writers: Richard Bean and Clive Coleman. With: Jim Broadbent. Helen Mirren. Matthew Goode (A Discovery of Witches). Anna Maxwell Martin (Line of Duty). Cinematographer: Mike Eley (The Dig). Production Designer: Kristian Milsted (Killing Eve)