Roger Michell’s swansong is a fittingly wholesome and heartwarming caper, an ode to Ealingesque whimsy and charm.
As Joni Mitchell sang in ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” In retrospect it’s almost as if she was singing specifically about the tragically curtailed career of British filmmaker Roger Michell, who passed at the age of 65 in September 2021.
With films such as Notting Hill, The Mother, Venus and Le Week-End under his belt, he was a purveyor of lively, premium-edged dramas that always aimed for widespread appeal.
The tragedy of his death is compounded by the fact that his swansong, The Duke, is also one of his most lively, resonant and well-rounded works, a cheeky, Ealingesque farce in which ultra-loquacious Geordie odd-jobber Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent), sets about stealing the eponymous Goya from the National Gallery with a plan to ransom it back to the government.
The film comes with the blue-collar bustle of a Roddy Doyle novel, as Kempton’s long-suffering wife Dorothy (Helen Mirren), attempts to stifle his various crackpot schemes (all in the name of funding TV licences for pensioners). Some may read the film as a righetous anti-government screed, others may see it as a whimsical true tale, but Michell treats the material with ample delicacy so that, in the end, you can take from the film what you want.
A jolly throwback to a time when flip, breezy British comedies came freighted with substance, and lots of charismatic performances to boot.
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Published 24 Feb 2022
Tags: Fionn Whitehead Helen Mirren Jim Broadbent Roger Michell The Duke
The film that ended up being Brit stalwart Roger Michell’s parting gesture.
Just a whole lot of fun while you’re watching. Broadbent and Mirren are a perfect match.
Funny, silly and just a damn good time at the pictures.