The Duke: What happened to Kempton Bunton, is Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent film The Duke a true story

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren star in The Duke, a film which follows the story of how Newcastle man Kempton Bunton stole the world famous Duke Of Wellington by Francisco de Goya. What happened and how much of the film is accurate?

After a series of pandemic-related delays, fans of British cinema were finally able to welcome critically acclaimed comedy drama The Duke last week.

Directed by the late, great Roger Michell, the heartwarming film starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren has received rave reviews from critics, with many leading film sites giving it a big thumbs up.

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Set in 1960s England, The Duke tells the true story of local man Kempton Bunton, a 60-year-old working class Geordie who believes strongly in supporting the common man.

Jim Broadband stars as Kempton Bunton in The Duke. Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment UK.Jim Broadband stars as Kempton Bunton in The Duke. Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment UK.
Jim Broadband stars as Kempton Bunton in The Duke. Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment UK.

After spending 13-days in Durham prison for refusing to pay his TV license, claiming the license is an unfair tax on ordinary people, he decides to travel to London to campaign for change.

Instead, he ends up with the world famous – and extremely valuable – Francisco de Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington that has been stolen from the National Gallery in London.

He then decides to send ransom notes insisting that he will return the painting if the government invests more in care for the elderly.

The Duke tells the uplifting true story of what happened next, as the unassuming retiree with a big heart sets out to change the world.

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Who is in the cast of The Duke?

Legendary British actors Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren take the leading role of working class husband and wife Kempton and Dorothy Bunton in The Duke.

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Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk) takes on the role of their ship builder son, Jackie Bunton, while Jack Bandeira (Gunpowder Milkshake) plays the older brother of Kenny Bunton.

Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game) and Anna Maxwell Martin (Line Of Duty) complete the cast.

Spoiler alerts incoming...

What happened to Kempton Bunton? How much of The Duke is a true story?

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The retired bus driver, who was 61-years-old at the time of the theft, lived in his native Newcastle in a council flat. Although the film shows only three children, he actually had five children in total, including three sons.

As shown in the film, Bunton was arrested for the theft of the Duke of Wellington painting by Francisco de Goya.

Four years after stealing the painting, Bunton eventually surrendered to the police, admitting to the theft of de Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery on August 21 1961. While the film shows he handed the painting back directly to the National Gallery before confessing, in real life Bunton had actually contacted a newspaper and returned the painting via the luggage office at Birmingham New Street station, before handing himself into the police six weeks later.

He was taken to court for the heist, but ultimately the jury found he was not guilty of stealing the painting, returning a guilty verdict only for the theft of the frame, which landed him a total of three months in jail.

Bunton died in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1976. His death went largely unreported and there were no obituaries in the major newspapers. The Duke showcases Bunton penning many scripts for plays, all of which he sends to various outlets. Sadly for Bunton though, none of his scripts were ever used.

Two decades after his death, documents were released by the National Gallery which indicated another person may have carried out the actual theft, and then passed the painting to Bunton.

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This was confirmed in 2012 via a Freedom of Information request.

The National Archives released a confidential file in which Bunton's son John (known as Jackie in The Duke) confessed to the theft following his arrest in 1969 for an unrelated minor offence.

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It showed that John Bunton said his father had intended to use the painting as part of his campaign for free TV licenses for the elderly and that it would ultimately have been returned to the National Gallery.

John said that both he and his brother, Kenneth, were told by their father Kempton not to come forward despite the trial.

However, despite John Bunton's admission of guilt, his son was never prosecuted after Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Normal Skelhorn advised that it would be difficult to prosecute Bunton senior for perjury, as the prosecution would have to rely on the evidence of the son, who was an unreliable witness.

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