The Duke (2020)

Quick synopsis: In 1961, a 60-year-old taxi driver steals Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. He sends ransom notes saying that he will return the painting if the government invests more in care for the elderly.

This is pretty much exactly what you expect it to be. It’s not going to top any end of year lists, but when it inevitably gets shown on TV over Christmas and you need something to watch with family while eating cheese, you’ll put it on. It’s incredibly inoffensive, but with great dialogue that will make you laugh. The characters are all incredible likeable and charming, and all with regional accents. It’s reassuringly touching and nice, with great performances all around. Really it’s the kind of film you could imagine being remade as a touring musical. It’s really hard to actively dislike.

But on the other hand, it’s hard to love. Yes, you’ll enjoy it. You’ll laugh, you’ll feel things, and it won’t be time wasted. But when you walk past it in a DVD shop, there will be no part of you that considers buying it. Even in a charity shop where it’s on sale for 50p, the option of buying it will not be one that enters your head. In a few years, you won’t remember that much about it outside of basic details.

The performances are all pretty damn good. There’s not really a weak link among them. Even those who are only in a few scenes do it perfectly. Most of the focus has been on Jim Broadbent, but Fionn Whitehead deserves plaudits too. His character could be a slimy pitiful character, but he’s played with so much earnestness and conviction that even he is doing slightly cowardly stuff, you root for him. I’ve seen him in one of the best episodes of Inside No. 9, and if he continues then he has a very bright future.

I’ve been somewhat critical of this film, but here is one thing it does phenomenally, and I can’t really talk about it without spoiling it. I know normally my approach to spoilers is “whatever”, but I do have a consistent logic to it all: if knowing what happens harms the viewing experience significantly, I don’t do it. And knowing the plot points for this will ruin it slightly. For the final third it takes an approach I genuinely didn’t expect. I can’t remember being that genuinely surprised by something I’ve seen in a long time. When it gets to the end of the year I will talk about it specifically, by whilst it’s on at the cinema I will refrain. The adverts did a marvellous job of concealing it.

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