In 1961 a portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya was lifted from the National Gallery in London. Only 19 days earlier it had been ‘bought for the nation’ for £140,000, a huge sum to shell out back in the day. But it wasn’t an ill-gotten gain to be fenced to a dodgy dealer. No, it was a modern take on robbing the rich to feed the poor, or rather to pay for their TV licenses. The thief sent a series of ransom notes to the authorities guaranteeing to return the Duke unharmed if elderly people were exempted. It’s a campaign that still rumbles on to this day. But who was the anti-hero behind the audacious heist? None other than Kempton Bunton, a middle-aged cabbie from Newcastle with a messianic sense of social justice.
And now there’s the COVID-delayed film, Duke, based on this extraordinary story and starring Jim Broadbent as Kempton and Helen Mirren as his long-suffering wife, Dorothy. Both deliver top-notch performances in a very British, very funny and heart-warming Robin Hood tale for the modern age. But does Kempton meet his Waterloo? The answer will surprise.
As an interesting footnote, the painting appears in Dr No, the first James Bond film, where it’s on display in the villain’s lair giving the impression it was stolen to order.