I wonder where you consider home to be? And if you are a long way away from that place do you ever feel homesick? That strange longing for the places, the people, the language and particularities that formed you ?
Home for me is the north-east – so I should add that I was born on Wearside or County Durham for those who are geographically challenged! It is also probably important to remind myself that I left for university in 1979 and never went back except for a short period as a curate in the mid 80s.
After a very full and intense ministry weekend at Sarum (and in the need for some measure of decompression) I turned to the Odeon in Salisbury for escape and refreshment. I noticed the film the Duke following a recommendation from a colleague. I had no idea what it was about but armed with a small bag of sweets the afternoon was sorted !
Imagine my delight to discover both Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren having acquired( very skilfully) Geordie accents in a set that takes us into 1960s Newcastle. The back to back houses, the cars and shops and furniture all set the scene. The fact that The Duke is based on a true story just accentuates its sense of homegrown eccentricity. The story ? An unashamedly old-fashioned underdog tale with some one-liners that had us all roaring with delight and laughter.
Jim Broadbent plays Kempton Bunton, who in the spring of 1961, as a retired bus driver and self-proclaimed Robin Hood figure, gets into trouble with the law for not paying his TV licence fee. He is outraged that public money is being spent to keep Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington in the National Gallery. He wants this public money to be spent on war widows and pensioners and for the greater good of mankind. There is in Bunton a vision of a different kind of world where fairness and respect counteract a society which for him is deeply unjust. The fanaticism is a cause of some significant unrest in the home. They have to organise themselves around a father who is driven, unpredictable and without any moderating ‘internal’ volume control. Helen Mirren plays Bunton’s wife Dorothy so wonderfully well – I like the comment by the critic who tells us that she ‘ turns exasperation into an art form’.
The best scene is the trial of Bunton in the High Court. No spoilers here, except to say that life is turned upside down with an extraordinary winning combination of sheer foolishness and fearlessness. Broadbent in interviews challenges actors to explore their relationship with establishment – ‘I like the idea of actors being anti-establishment’ – he exclaims!
So I guess I am bound to ask – what might we take risks for? What aspects of monolithic bureaucracy impinge on our freedom and flourishing? What would we fight for – in Bunton’s example – at any cost to self and livelihood? If home is a place where we feel safe and for which we often long how might it also be the base for adventure, the naming of some of the stupidities which we seem to be locked within ?
A great film, skilfully directed, superbly acted and perhaps all the more challenging because it is as the credits told us at the beginning – based on a true story. Let’s all discover a bit of Bunton in us.