November 20, 2022 – English comedies seem to have more than their share of eccentric characters. Those characters go hand in hand with the very distinct British style of humor. In this film, renowned British actor Jim Broadbent (“The Lady in the Van”) fills the bill perfectly, playing a real life British eccentric, Kempton Bunton.
In 1961, Kempton Bunton confessed to stealing a Goya painting of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London and holding it for ransom. There is a lot more to the story than that, and it is in this movie. There was even a lot more to the story than most people knew at the time of Bunton's trial for the theft, and mysteries remained to be uncovered years later.
I had no idea a person could wind up in jail for watching television without a license in England, but that's what happened to Buunton, among other things. Bunton believed that pensioners like himself should not have to pay the TV licensing fee and he vigorously campaigned against it.
Award-winning actress Hellen Mirren (“Woman in Gold”) plays Bunton's long-suffering wife, Dorothy, the sole breadwinner in the Bunton home, working as a housekeeper while her husband carries on with his protest activities, and writes plays that are never produced. The self-educated Bunton considers himself a playwright and an amateur legal expert. His inventive legal theories are very offbeat.
When the British government paid the sum of 140,000 pounds (over $3.5 million in today's dollars) for the painting of the Duke, Bunton is furious. He said, “If you put all that money into a bank account earning 10 per cent interest, you could pay for 3,500 TV licenses a year and reconnect with all them people.”
Once he is in possession of the painting, he tries to do just that, to get the government to cease charging pensioners for TV licenses, in return for the painting. He also considers getting ransom money for the painting and using the money for the same purpose, to help pensioners pay for the licensing fees.
Only Bunton and his son, Jackie (Fionn Whitehead of “Dunkirk”) know that he has hidden the painting in his house. Jackie builds a false wall inside a wardrobe in Bunton's home to hide the painting. Eventually, Pammy (Charlotte Spencer of “Cinderella”) a friend of Bunton's other son, Kenny (Jack Bandeira of “Gunpowder Milkshake”) finds the hidden painting and threatens to turn in Bunton for the 5,000 pound reward.
Bunton immediately returns the stolen painting to the National Gallery and is immediately arrested. The movie begins and ends with Bunton's trial, which features a legal defense almost as fanciful as one of Bunton's own cockeyed legal theories. If you are familiar with Bunton's case, you know how it turns out, but being unfamiliar with it, I thought the verdict was one of several great plot twists in the movie.
Bunton's barrister, Jeremy Hutchinson QC (Matthew Goode of “The Immitation Game”) promotes a very unexpected defense. Matthew Goode gives a fine performance as a lawyer who finds his client quite unusual, and adjusts his arguments accordingly. Jim Broadbent is the star of this show, giving a performance that might win him some awards this year, and Helen Mirren gives a fine performance, as expected for her. This film rates a B.
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