It’s a heartbreaking thread with a heart, from a director lost too soon
M, 96 minutes
The story of the flight in 1961 by Francisco Goya Portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London is so good that one wonders why it hasn’t been done before. It turns out it does, as a 2015 BBC radio play, although it’s not clear if there’s a direct relationship to the film.
The radio script was by David Spicer. The film credits Richard Bean and Clive Coleman as screenwriters. Christopher Bunton gets an executive producer tag, which may explain the film’s unusually intimate knowledge of the man who stole the painting. Kempton Brunton was Christopher’s grandfather, although Kempton died in 1976, before Christopher was born.
At the time of the robbery, Kempton was a 61-year-old former bus driver, disabled by a work accident. He was also a bit overweight, which made the flight more sensational, given that he had to escape through a small window in the first-floor bathroom and then up a ladder.
Casting Jim Broadbent as the lovable but desperate Kempton is the film’s first good move. No one is more comfortable playing the role of an average British guy, especially from the lower middle or working class. Broadbent brings fundamental decency to any role – and that seems to be Brunton’s defining characteristic. Adding Helen Mirren is always a good idea, although it’s far from her usual lineup. Mirren is almost unrecognizable as Dorothy, the crusader Kempton’s long-suffering wife.
He may be a man who knows right from wrong and the rights of the common man, but he’s no good at keeping a job and putting bread on the table (they’re from t’north, Newcastle Upon Tyne). Dorothy is a wounded and grieving soul: the loss of their teenage daughter in an accident casts a shadow over their modest home.
The story opens with grimy row houses, dark satanic mills spitting in the background. Kempton is busy removing the BBC receiving gadget from the back of his television, so he can tell royalty collectors, who are now knocking on the door, that he doesn’t have to pay the license because it only receives ITV, the free-to-air station. For this, the judge sends him to Durham Nick for 13 days, apparently not for the first time.