Dennis Lehane ( Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island) showruns this six episode series, based on a true story, starring Taron Egerton, Paul Walter Hauser (as another did he/didn't he a la Richard Jewell), Sepideh Moafi (Night Eats the World), Greg Kinnear and Ray Liotta in one of his final roles.
What is it that we love about British films; a sense of place, the accents, the modest but real characters who are a little eccentric but have pluck? In which case, The Duke (which opened last year’s British Film Festival) could be said to tick all the boxes. And, of course, it is anchored by a solid cast. It stars Dame Hellen Mirren (allowing herself to be positively dowdy as Dorothy, a Geordie housewife from the 1960s), and Jim Broadbent as the wonderfully named Kempton Bunton.
Kempton is a man too intelligent for his own humble background, but not worldly-wise enough to realise that the world is usually laughing at him. The background idea is explained to us in the first few scenes.
In the old days, the BBC, as the national broadcaster, required viewers to have a TV licence to receive their broadcasts. Much to the chagrin of Dorothy and their adult live-at-home son Jackie (Fionn Whitehead), Kempton would rather disable his TV than fall into line. When the TV licence inspector vans come round (yes this really happened in the 1960s), he proudly tells them that, as his TV will only get the commercial channel, he is not required to pay for the licence.
He then goes on the attack, as it were, and starts a ‘campaign’ to get the TV licence fee paid by the government for pensioners and those in need. He becomes vaguely Robin Hoodish as opposed to just daft. All this is very parochial and silly of course, and it is played up for its gentle humour.
Later on, Kempton steals a portrait by Goya of the Duke of Wellington (hence the title). He then hides it in his Newcastle working man’s terrace and plans to use it to finesse his licence fee campaign.
The film was directed by Roger Michell, best known for Notting Hill, who unfortunately passed away recently but leaves a legacy of films that are quintessentially English (The Mother, Enduring Love, My Cousin Rachel, Tea With the Dames, Le Week-end, the upcoming documentary Elizabeth).
Like Brassed Off, or Billy Elliot or Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, The Duke presents a warm view of a bygone era in the North of England. In truth, it sails pretty close to parody, and it is as sentimental as all get out, but it is irresistible at the same time. As the marketing shouts, this is an ‘unabashed crowd pleaser’ and one cannot really demur.
Inspired by true events, this buddy comedy turned crime caper follows two women’s unintentional rise to the top of a criminal empire built on fraud, theft, and extreme couponing.
House of Lies, Veronica Mars, and The Good Place co-stars Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste team up for their fourth collaboration, this time as Connie Kaminski and Jojo Johnson, frustrated suburbanites who take their love for saving pennies a step too far and find themselves running a nation-wide grocery store coupon scam which somehow nets them over $40 million dollars.
It’s the kind of story that you read in the headlines and think “they should make a movie out of that”. The concept is entertaining enough — two friends feeling so desperately undervalued in their everyday lives that they accidentally mastermind their way into a life of crime — but while writer/director husband and wife duo Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet (Beneath the Harvest Sky) have a strong background in drama, they seem hesitant to touch too deeply on any kind of emotion or social commentary; downgrading issues like Connie’s failed pregnancy to throwaway scene-filler, and instead favouring cheap gags about the consequences of regular bowel movements during a stakeout.
The easy, well-established chemistry between Bell and Howell-Baptiste does wonders in keeping the audience’s attention from wandering. There’s a relaxed, natural flow to their banter that contrasts perfectly with the irritable sparring of the film’s other duo, Paul Walter Hauser’s uptight, rule-abiding loss prevention officer, determined to bring Jojo and Connie down for their crimes, and Vice Vaughn, the long-suffering but surprisingly warm-hearted USPS investigator.
Unfortunately, despite the amusing premise and the best efforts of a likable cast, the film remains fun but ultimately forgettable.
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