In 1961, Kempton Bunton, a 60-year old taxi driver, stole Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. It was the first (and remains the only) theft in the Gallery's history.
Kempton sent ransom notes saying that he would return the painting on condition that the government invested more in care for the elderly - he had long campaigned for pensioners to receive free television.
What happened next became the stuff of legend. Only 50 years later did the full story emerge - Kempton had spun a web of lies. The only truth was that he was a good man, determined to change the world and save his marriage - how and why he used the Duke to achieve that is a wonderfully uplifting tale
Newcastle, 1961. Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent) sits at his typewriter finishing one of his plays. He puts it in an envelope addressed to the BBC and heads out to the Post Office where the shop assistant seems unimpressed by his latest work, a reimagining of the scriptures with Jesus as a woman: 'The Adventures of Susan Christ'.
Walking back home through his impoverished neighbourhood, he sees a Post Office television detector van parked in his street with officials going door to door, checking that people have paid their television licence fee. He makes a dash to the phone box and puts in a call to the local newspaper to tip-off a reporter.
In a large house in a more well-to-do part of the city, Kempton's wife, Dorothy Bunton (Helen Mirren), is on her knees scrubbing a fireplace when Mrs Gowling (Anna Maxwell Martin), the wife of a local Councillor, mentions a job advert she has seen in town that might be of interest to Kempton. There is an awkwardness between them over this intrusion into Dorothy's private life. Dorothy resumes scrubbing the fireplace.
Jackie Bunton (Fionn Whitehead), Kempton's younger son, arrives home on his motorbike and is asked by Kempton to stall the Post Office officials whilst he removes the tuner from the back of the television that allows it to receive the BBC. When the officials finally enter the house, they find Kempton watching ITV (a commercial station funded by advertising as opposed to the BBC's public service funded by a license fee). Kempton claims he has no need to pay the license fee as he physically cannot watch the BBC. However, even if that were not the case, he would still refuse to pay because he thinks that Old Age Pensioners should not have to pay for this modern 'cure for loneliness'. At that moment a reporter from the local newspaper arrives to capture Kempton's protest, including the slogan daubed on a home-made placard: 'Free TV for the OAP'.
Shortly after, Dorothy arrives home mortified by the crowded scene playing out in her living room. She is horrified that the local press is there and tries to appease the officials by promising to buy a license but Kempton will not back down. The officials warn Kempton that no one is above the law.
Thirteen dayslater, Jackie picks Kempton up from outside Durham Prison where he hasserved a prison term for non-payment of the license fee. Kempton asks to be taken to visit the grave of his daughter, Marian, to whom he apologizes for being unable to visit during his imprisonment. We see from the gravestone that Marian died several years ago, aged 18. Jackie asks why Dorothy never visits Marian's grave, but Kempton says only Dorothy can answer that question.
In London, a press conference is held at the National Gallery. The Home Secretary, Rab Butler (Richard McCabe) and the Director of the National Gallery, Sir Philip Hendy, (Andrew Havill), proudly display Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington, explaining how they stopped it from being exported to America by having the government buy it for the Nation at a cost of £140,000. At home, watching the press conference on the television, Kempton is outraged that so much money should be spent on a painting (particularly one of an aristocrat, who opposed universal suffrage) when it could have been spent on providing free television to thousands of OAPs. Dorothy is exhausted by yet another one of Kempton's political speeches.
The next day, Kempton goes back to work as a taxi driver, although his monologue on the origins of Esperanto is clearly of no interest to his war veteran passenger.
Kempton's older son, Kenny Bunton (Jack Bandeira), visits Jackie at the shipyard where Jackie is fixing up working boats to sell-on. Kenny is a petty criminal who has come back to Newcastle to keep a low profile. He tries and fails to persuade Jackie to join him on a job. He also asks after Kempton and Dorothy. Jackie replies that since Marian's death nothing changes: Kempton writes and Dorothy scrubs.
Back at the Gowling's house, Mrs Gowling asks if Kempton is out of prison. Dorothy is ashamed that she knows and says that if the Councillor wishes to fire her, she will understand. Mrs Gowling reassures her that they are happy with her work and that she agrees with Kempton - why should you pay for the BBC if you can't receive it?
Jackie and Kenny return home from the pub in high spirits and Kenny asks to stay a couple of nights in the back bedroom. The mood sours when conversation turns to his new girlfriend, Pamela (Charlotte Spencer). As a stickler for propriety, Dorothy does not approve - Pamela has separated from her husband but is still married. An argument breaks out between mother and son and Kempton attempts to defuse the situation whilst Jackie tries to concentrate on the television news and yet another report on the portrait of the Duke of Wellington.
At the taxi office, Kempton is hauled over the coals by his boss - he is short on the previous day's takings having failed to charge the war veteran. He is fired with immediate effect.
Kempton, with Jackie at his side, takes his 'Free TV for the OAP' campaign to the streets. His speech outside the main Post Office, calling for the community to come together, is ignored; and there are few signatories to his petition other than Mrs Gowling, who happens to be passing by. As the rain pours down on her bedraggled husband, Dorothy looks on from afar, embarrassed. She thinks he is wasting his life.
Back home, Kempton and Dorothy come to an agreement. He will go to London for two days in a final attempt to have his campaign noticed by the powers that be - he will appeal direct to Parliament. But when he returns, he promises to keep his head down and get a steady job.
In London, Kempton first tries to find out about the fate of the plays he's sent to the BBC but is turned away. He then approaches The Daily Express to seek their support for his campaign and meets the same fate. Finally, he unfurls his banner in the entrance to the House of Commons where he is swiftly seized by the police and bundled back out into the street.
Defeated, Kempton sits in Trafalgar Square eating a sandwich and reading a discarded newspaper that comments on the crowds flocking to see the portrait of Wellington at the National Gallery. He turns to stare at the imposing façade of the National Gallery...
Late at night, we see a figure put up a ladder to a window at the back of the Gallery and climb in. Entering the deserted building, the figure creeps along the corridor and takes the portrait of Wellington from its easel.
We cut to archive of the following day's news coverage of the theft of the Goya. At a press conference, police commissioner Sir Joseph Simpson (Charles Edwards) explains that the high level of expertise required to steal the portrait means that they are probably dealing with a professional gang of international criminals.
We find Kempton and Jackie studying the portrait in the Bunton's back bedroom. It is not very good according to Kempton and he assures his son that the police will not be looking for the painting in Newcastle. When they hear Dorothy return home, Kempton tells Jackie to hide the painting in the wardrobe whilst he intercepts her.
Kempton tells Dorothy he's back for good, swears that he's given up all his campaigning and promises to keep his name out of the papers. On the television news, a £5,000 reward is announced for recovery of the stolen painting. Although it's late, Kempton makes an excuse for popping out to see about a job from a friend working on a nightshift. In fact, he's looking to hitch a ride out of town so as to post a ransom note to the national press without giving away his location in Newcastle. The ransom note explains his motivation 'to pick the pockets of those who appreciate art more than charity'.
In Kempton's absence, a suspicious Dorothy enters the back bedroom and goes through his desk. She finds a photo of their dead daughter, Marian, and is deeply moved. She goes to the wardrobe where she knows he keeps copies of his plays and finds a new one: 'The Girl on the Bicycle'. She is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Jackie. She asks if he's read the play and he gives a non-committal answer. He suggests that if she spoke to Kempton about Marian, he wouldn't have to write about her.
We find Dorothy hoovering at the Gowling's house, staring out of the window at Mrs Gowling laughing as she pushes her daughter along on a bicycle...
Kempton returns home from posting his ransom note, to find Dorothy reading the play. He tries to reassure her that it is not about Marian, but the similarities are too close for her and she is horrified that he's sent a copy to the BBC - she believes their grief should be private. She flings the half-read script across the room.
Back in London, handwriting expert Dr Unsworth (Sian Clifford) is studying Kempton's note and explaining to DI Macpherson (Dorian Lough) and DI Brompton (Sam Swainsbury) that they should be looking for an uneducated northern man in his late 50s, known in his community for local campaigning. Once she leaves, their sexist dismissal of her expert opinion leads them to continue to focus on the likelihood of the theft being the work of an Italian gang.
Kempton begins works at a bread factory alongside Javid Akram (Ashley Kumar), a young Pakistani man. Mr Walker (Craig Conway), the man in charge, walks past to check on their work and makes a racist comment about Javid, much to Kempton's shock.
Flicking through all the newspapers later that day, Kempton is surprised to see no news about his ransom note. He decides to prove he has the painting by sending the ticket from the back of the portrait to The Daily Mirror - the working man's paper. Dorothy is delighted that Kempton is back in steady employment at the bakery and that they will be getting a free supply of 'slightly damaged' baking - they dance around the kitchen recalling earlier more carefree times.
Jackie takes his new girlfriend, Irene (Aimee Kelly), for a motor bike ride to the shipyard, where he breaks into a boatshed to show her the beautiful wooden motorboats that are built there. This is his ambition, to travel the world building boats like these. They kiss.
Ahead of his early morning shift at the bread factory, Dorothy lovingly makes Kempton a full English breakfast.
Sir Joseph Simpson and DI Macpherson are informing the Home Secretary of the ticket taken from the back of the Goya that The Daily Mirror has received. They are forced to admit that they are looking for a thief closer to home than Italy. But they are embarrassingly far from knowing exactly where in the UK the thief resides.
Whilst on their break at the bread factory, Mr Walker again bullies Javid, prompting Kempton to challenge his racism. He is immediately fired. He goes home via a bakery to buy a pork pie, asking for it to be 'slightly damaged'. As he arrives at the house, Kempton is shocked to find two police officers in the back bedroom along with Kenny and Pamela. However, the presence of the police has nothing to do with the stolen painting. The officers have tracked down Kenny because he is wanted in court to give evidence in the trial of one of his friends.
As she happily serves him another early morning breakfast, Kempton cannot bring himself to tell Dorothy that he has lost his job. Instead he behaves as if he is going to work and leaves for the library where he can snooze undisturbed.
Kenny and Pamela are having sex against the wardrobe in the back bedroom when she hears something fall inside. When Kenny leaves, she opens the wardrobe to discover the portrait hidden at the back.
Having been filling in time whilst pretending to be at work, Kempton is coming out of a betting shop when Jackie runs up to him with a copy of The Daily Mirror - they are offering to put on an exhibition of the portrait and to donate the revenue from the ticket sales to charity. Kempton is over the moon - he wants to celebrate and, having just won on the horses, he can afford to take the family out for a fish supper.
The family, along with Irene and Pamela, are having fun in the pub when Pamela corners Kempton and says she knows he has the painting and suggests they move it to a neutral place and then claim the £5,000 reward to split between them. Kempton says it's not enough money to do what he wants to do - to help people. Pamela says that if he doesn't do as she suggests, she'll tell the police and take the full reward herself.
Kempton rushes straight home. With Pamela poised to betray him and seize the reward, he knows there is no time for his plan with The Daily Mirror to come to fruition. Instead, he reckons the authorities may go easy on him if he voluntarily returns the painting. He therefore decides to travel to London that night to hand himself in. Whilst he is wrapping the painting in the back bedroom, Dorothy walks in having grown suspicious about his hasty departure from the pub. She is appalled to discover that Kempton stole the painting and is furious that he has involved Jackie and lied to her about stopping his campaigning. She throws him out.
With the portrait wrapped in brown paper under his arm, Kempton sets off for London. Jackie insists on coming with him, but Kempton refuses - his mother needs him. Kempton arrives at the National Gallery and returns the painting to a security guard.
We cut to an interview room in Brixton Prison after a night in the cells. Kempton's lawyers, Jeremy Hutchinson QC (Matthew Goode) and his junior, Eric Crowther, are shown in. When Kempton asks whether Hutchinson can get him off, he explains that by Kempton returning the portrait by hand, confessing with a detailed explanation of how he stole it and why, he almost certainly cannot.
Back in Newcastle, Jackie and Dorothy watch Kempton on television arrive at the Old Bailey - the number 1 criminal court in England. Jackie wants to go to support Kempton but Dorothy is still angry and refuses.
The trial begins and the public gallery is full - Kempton sees Mrs Gowling arrive, but none of his family. It becomes clear that the press and the public are on the side of Kempton as an unlikely latter-day Robin Hood. However, the jury appears to be divided and Judge Aarvold (James Wilby) is most certainly hostile. Prosecutor Edward Cussen QC (John Heffernan) calls a string of witnesses. Hutchinson declines to cross-examine any of them, seeming to accept all their statements about his client's guilt.
Jackie finds Dorothy furiously cleaning the toilet at home, blaming Kempton for dragging the family into the gutter. Jackie tells his mother to stop criticising Kempton; it's all because she blames Kempton for Marian's death; isn't it enough that Kempton blames himself for buying her the bike on which she had her accident? Jackie finally breaks and confesses that he, not Kempton, stole the Goya. Fed up with his father's campaigns being laughed at or ignored, and wanting to strike a blow for the 'have nots', he decided that if he took the 'haves' precious painting, the government might finally listen to Kempton.
As Jackie talks, we see in flashback how easy it was for him to steal the portrait in the early hours of the morning whilst the cleaners were at work; and we learn how Kempton insisted on protecting Jackie (in order to spare Dorothy a broken heart) by saying that if the theft were ever to be discovered, Kempton would take the blame. That night Dorothy goes to bed with a script in her hand - finally she is finishing 'The Girl on the Bicycle'.
At the Old Bailey, Kempton takes the stand. Hutchinson asks him about his early life and what led him to develop his philosophy about helping others. Kempton talks of being swept out to sea as a 14-year old but not panicking and instead floating with a smile on his face because he had faith in people and knew someone would rescue him eventually. In a community we all look out for each other. Kempton goes on to talk of his father, a veteran of the first World War, who had lost his legs at Ypres. Such veterans are now OAPs with little money, often disconnected from society. He believes that such disconnection diminishes the entire country.
As he speaks, we intercut with Dorothy for the first-time visiting Marian's grave. We understand that in some way she too is finally reconnecting.
In court, Kempton explains that television provides connection for OAPs. He says that he took the painting to pay for free television licenses for the elderly. We notice in the public gallery the gradual arrival of more people we recognise - Jackie and Irene and Javid.
During a break in the proceedings, Dorothy comes to visit Kempton in his cell. There is still a gulf between them but she tells him she's been to see Marian and that her death wasn't his fault. She also says she knows he didn't steal the painting. Kempton tells her he is looking at ten years in prison. Dorothy leaves without giving any clear sense of reconciliation.
Hutchinson delivers his closing statement: Kempton is not a thief as he did not intend to personally profit from the Goya nor did he intend to permanently keep it. All he was trying to do was a bit of good in the world. The Judge is unimpressed by the argument and directs the jury to consider the impact of such logic - anyone would be free to enter a gallery and borrow a Rubens for the weekend.
When the jury return to court to deliver their verdict, all seems to be set to go against Kempton when he is found guilty of the first count of stealing the frame of the painting (which Jackie had removed and discarded in London). However, on the main count of theft of the painting itself (and the lesser counts of demanding money with menaces for the return of the portrait; and creating a public nuisance by depriving members of the public of the opportunity to view the portrait) Kempton was found not guilty. The public gallery erupts in cheers and Mrs Gowling breaks into a rousing rendition of 'Jerusalem'.
Kempton Bunton served three months for the theft of the frame, which was never found.
On his release, Dorothy greets Kempton outside the prison gates. He has been busy writing more plays. They return home where Marian's picture is no longer hidden in Kempton's desk but has been framed by Dorothy and hung in pride of place on the sitting room wall.
Four years later, keen to clear his conscience, Jackie confessed.
Jackie and Irene sit nervously outside the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Sir Joseph Simpson tells them that it is not in the public interest to re-open the case. However, if they tell anyone about this decision, he warns them that the DPP may change his mind. Ecstatic at the news, Jackie proposes, and Irene happily accepts.
We find Dorothy and Kempton at the cinema watching the James Bond movie, Dr No, when the portrait of the Duke pops up in the villain's lair. As Sean Connery does a double-take, Kempton and Dorothy share a look and laugh.
Free television licenses were eventually introduced in 2000 for the over 75s.
In 1961, Francisco Goya's portrait of The Duke of Wellington was put up for auction at Sotheby's. The New York collector, Charles Wrightsman, offered £140,000 (the equivalent of £3,000,000 today). However, the British government intervened in support of a matching offer to ensure the painting stayed in the UK. The painting was saved for the Nation and put on display in the National Gallery. 19 days later the portrait became the first (and the last) painting to be stolen from the Gallery in its 196-year history.
Jackie Bunton saw the painting on the TV news. He was 20, from a poor family in Newcastle, and was working as a taxi driver whilst dreaming of a better life. Hearing about the huge sum paid for the painting, Jackie was curious as to what all the fuss was about. He decided to travel to London to visit the National Gallery. He found the painting sitting on an easel behind a simple rope barrier. Standing in front of it, Jackie felt it was the closest he would ever get to real wealth.
An idea started to form in his head. He'd read somewhere that insurance would pay out 10% of the value of a stolen painting as a reward for its safe return. Might this be his chance to make a better life for himself and his family?
He picked up a map of the Gallery at the front desk and inspected the layout. He placed a feather on the easel behind the painting and located the washrooms at the rear of the gallery. He placed tape over the lock of the washroom door and opened its window, over-looking a courtyard that contained building repair equipment (including several ladders). When he returned the following day, the feather and tape were still in place and the washroom window open. This confirmed that the painting was not moved at night and that the washroom door and window were not locked. He then needed to decide the best time to try to access the Gallery. He struck up a conversation with a security guard who innocently revealed that there was a security patrol every 20 minutes, and that the alarms were turned off when the cleaners were on duty in the early hours of the morning.
That night Jackie climbed onto a parking meter and hauled himself over the ten-foot perimeter wall and into the courtyard of the National Gallery. He climbed up a ladder, squeezed through the washroom window, crept through the gallery and quickly grabbed the painting, returning the way he came.
Outside the Gallery, he broke into and hot-wired a car, putting the painting on the back seat. As he was driving away, he was stopped by a policeman and reprimanded for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. He was let off with a caution, the painting in full view throughout. Back at his rented room, Jackie took the painting out of its cumbersome frame and hid it under the bed. After the initial adrenalin rush, he started to panic: "It wasn't planned properly because when you do a thing like that, you don't think you're going to get away with it, and the further you go on you just make it up on the fly".
Not knowing what to do, Jackie called his 60-year old father, Kempton, who took the train down to London. By the time he arrived, the stolen painting was headline news all over the world. Kempton ordered Jackie to go back to Newcastle and not breathe a word to anyone, especially his mother. Kempton would wait in London with the painting until things quietened down and it felt safe to bring it to Newcastle. Two weeks later he took the painting up to Newcastle by train and boarded it up at the back of his bedroom cupboard. It remained there for the next 4 years.
Born in 1904, Kempton was a charismatic dreamer. A man with a strong sense of right versus wrong, he was regularly in conflict with figures of authority, especially employers, finding it very difficult to hold down a job. That meant it was his wife, Dorothy, who was the main breadwinner, working for a pittance as a cleaner. When their oldest child, Marian, died in a tragic cycling accident, the family was devastated. Kempton increasingly retreated into his imaginary world and spent much of his time in the back-bedroom writing plays which he would send to the broadcasters. None were accepted.
His idealism had led him to be imprisoned for refusing to pay his television license; and to the loss of his job at a bakery for challenging a racist manager.
Suddenly in possession of a stolen masterpiece, Kempton felt that he finally had the means to get himself heard and do some good, whilst also protecting Jackie, the apple of his mother's eye. He concocted a plan to write ransom notes, demanding that £140,000 be given to charity in return for the painting.
He sent a number of these ransom notes to the press, but none of them were taken seriously: Scotland Yard was convinced that the theft was the work of the Mafia or some other organized criminal syndicate. When Kempton eventually sent the shipping ticket from the back of the painting, the police finally did believe that these were communications from the real thief, but they had no idea where to start looking. The National Gallery offered a £5,000 reward for anyone who could assist with the identification of the thief and the return of the painting. But nobody came forward.
In the meantime, Kempton went from job to job and continued his campaign for free TV licences for those that couldn't afford them. Eventually the Daily Mirror publicly offered to make a deal with the thief - if the painting was returned, the Mirror would put it on public display to raise £30,000 for charitable causes.
The 'workers' paper' makes an offer to Kempton to put the painting on display Kempton was tempted to accept - it was the best offer that he had received and he was also concerned that Pamela, the girlfriend of his older son, Kenny, suspected that the family had something to do with the theft. There was a risk she would go to the authorities to claim the reward. Kempton wrapped up the painting in brown paper and had Jackie take it to Birmingham train station and deposit it in the Left Luggage. He then posted the Left Luggage ticket to the Daily Mirror. But once they had taken possession of the painting, they failed to live up to their side of the bargain.
Kempton felt both betrayed by the working man's newspaper and fearful of Pamela's next steps which risked implicating Jackie: "The dark hours of the night would find me awake wracking my brains in an effort to escape the trap of my own making... I made up my mind... I would go South and surrender". In July 1965 Kempton walked into Scotland Yard and handed over a written statement, confessing to the crime. The handwriting of the statement and the note paper it was written on clearly matched that of the ransom notes.
Kempton was indicted to appear at the Old Bailey on various charges, including theft of the painting and its frame. Jeremy Hutchinson QC (a distinguished barrister who had taken part in many famous cases including the obscenity trial over the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover) had read about the case and thought it would be fun to defend Kempton. Hutchinson decided on an ingenious way to mount his defense. The Larceny Act of 1916 provided that a person is guilty of theft if they take something for their own benefit with the intention of permanently depriving the owner. Kempton had earlier issued a statement that 'I had no intention of keeping the painting or of depriving the nation permanently of it... My sole object in all this was to set up a charity to pay for television licences for old and poor people who seem to be neglected in our affluent society".
Kempton was personable and funny on the witness stand and he won over the jury and the attendant journalists. Hutchinson successfully argued that if the law of larceny did not cover the temporary removal of pictures from galleries, then the law should be amended rather than an innocent man be convicted. Bunton was found not guilty of stealing the painting but he was found guilty of stealing the frame (because it was never recovered) - he was sentenced to 3 months in prison.
It is interesting to note that during the trial, Pamela did turn up at the Old Bailey to claim the reward, saying that Jackie had stolen the painting rather than Kempton (pointing out the indisputable fact that Kempton as a corpulent 60 year old would not be able to fit through the washroom window of the National Gallery). However, the court felt that as they had a confession from Kempton and the trial was drawing to a close, it was not in the public interest to start all over again pursuing Kempton's son. They dismissed Pamela's allegation as a family squabble.
As a direct consequence of the trial, the government amended the Theft Act to make it a crime to remove an artwork from a gallery; and they demanded that security at the Nation's museums and galleries be entirely overhauled.
In 1969, four years after the trial, Jackie was pulled over by the police for driving a stolen vehicle. Wanting to get married to his girlfriend, Irene, and believing that at some point his theft of the Goya would become public knowledge, he decided that he wanted his earlier crime to be taken into account so that he could serve his time and move on: "I just wanted to get on with my life and was tired of having it hanging over me. I didn't want it to come up down the line and wanted it removed from my father's record as he couldn't get work. So, when I was arrested for another offence I decided to tell the truth."
However, the authorities realized that in order to retry the case with Jackie in the dock, they would have to rely on Kempton's testimony and he had clearly perjured himself at the first trial and was de facto an unreliable witness. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) therefore decided that it would not be in the public interest to re-open the trial and instead proposed to drop the case on condition that Kempton and Jackie would never publicly disclose the matter.
It was not until 2012, that the DPP's file on the theft of the Goya was released to the public by the National Archive.
Later Jackie did marry Irene; he still lives in Newcastle.
2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the theft of Goya's portrait of The Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. It is the only painting ever to have been stolen from the National Gallery in its 196-year history.
The Duke is the first film to tell this extraordinary true story. At its heart is Kempton Bunton, one of life's great eccentrics, a man of principle who stood up for what he believed to be right and was determined to live a meaningful life.
The process of bringing the incredible Bunton family history to the screen started with an email to the producer, Nicky Bentham, from Kempton's grandson (Jackie's son), Christopher Bunton. He told her of the story of his grandfather and his interest in turning it into a film.
'It felt too good to be true,' Bentham recalls, 'so I started researching and going deeper into the story. When everything Christopher said checked out, I was astonished that this story hadn't been told before. The family rarely spoke about it themselves, so I felt incredibly privileged when they gave me access to all their archive materials, ranging from copies of Kempton's extraordinary stage plays to the hand-tinted photograph of Marian [Kempton and Dorothy's oldest child who died in a cycling accident] which used to have pride of place on the wall of the family home.'
With the rights in the story secured, Bentham started to consider who would be the right partner to bring the story to screen.
'Thinking about the type of story, I knew Pathe would be a great partner,' Bentham explains. 'They were the first phone call I made and were interested immediately. Like me, they couldn't believe this true story hadn't been told already.'
'We have a reputation for quality dramas based on inspiring true stories' says Cameron McCracken, Executive Producer and Managing Director of Pathe UK, 'so I was delighted when Nicky made a beeline to our door. Kempton's belief that we are all connected - that in caring for the weakest, we are also caring for ourselves - that belief resonated with me when we first started developing the project with Nicky 5 years ago. And of course, that resonance only grew stronger as we found ourselves completing the film in the middle of the COVID crisis.'
Over time, both Ingenious Media and Screen Yorkshire became equally enthused by the story and joined Pathe and Neon as partners on the production.
The celebrated stage play writers, Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, were brought on board to write the script. As research material, Bentham was able to provide them with all of Kempton's plays:
'He was always writing about things that were very close to his heart, things that he couldn't talk about freely at home, so he poured it all into his writing,' Bentham explains. 'While none of his plays have ever been published, you can see a lot of his character coming through in the writing. It is something that Richard and Clive used as inspiration to find the right tone for Kempton's voice: his humour and his humanity.'
As a former barrister and correspondent for the BBC on legal affairs, Coleman was aware of the true story through his admiration for Kempton's, QC Jeremy Hutchinson. However, as the writers explain further, what attracted them to the project, was not the trial:
'For us, the real charm of the film lies in Kempton. A character who genuinely believes, in the face of reality telling him otherwise, that he can change the world and change people's behaviour for the better,' Coleman explains. 'He never loses that faith which has been deeply rooted in him since childhood.'
'Our take on the film is that it is very much a story of a family and the forces that are pulling them apart, rooted in the tragic death of Marian,' Bean adds. 'You also have the character of Kempton, one of those fabulous British characters, who is trying to change the world. He is a modern Robin Hood, a Don Quixote, a dreamer in a way.' When the script was sent to Roger Michell, the director was immediately smitten.
'Clive and Richard did a marvellous job in finding the equilibrium between fun and fact. The script read like a great Ealing Comedy from the 1960s,' Michell recalls, 'the type of films that were being made during the period our story is set; political films about ordinary people telling truth to power and standing up to government,' Michell explains. 'Much like the Ealing Comedies, the script had a wonderful tone, it was light-hearted, but with moments of pathos and drama, as well as being full of laughs. It's an uplifting film, you'll leave the cinema with a big smile on your face - I hope!'
'It's a feel-good film and I hope audiences will feel uplifted,' Coleman agrees. 'It's about the kind of person you would want to be around. In a world that often does feel so bleak, there are people who genuinely have hope and genuinely believe that they can change things for the better. If there were more people like Kempton Bunton, the world would be a happier place.'
Kempton Bunton, the Local Hero. Kempton Bunton believed in 'big society' and our responsibility towards each other. He didn't want people to be or feel isolated - whether that was Dorothy trapped in her grief, or a war veteran housebound through disability. He stood up for the weak and the vulnerable and his particular obsession was with the elderly, who were cut off from society by poverty. He saw television as a solution to their loneliness and campaigned for them to be given free access. The real Kempton Bunton went to prison twice for refusing to pay his BBC TV license fee.
As Michell explains: 'Despite being constantly beaten down by the world, Kempton was an eternal optimist and an activist. We need those people in all cultures, people who are constantly the grit in the shoe of authority, questioning everything they are told to swallow.'
'Kempton was always thinking about his community. What is the point of one person being prosperous if there are so many others suffering?' Bentham continues. 'He wasn't a perfect man, but I do see him as a heroic figure. He dedicated his life to trying to better society for everyone, not just himself.'
Coleman agrees, 'He's a hero for our time. Particularly now when society seems to have become more divided and more hateful. The charm of Kempton Bunton is that he really believed that society was a communal endeavour - the idea that I'm nothing without you and you're nothing without me - that is the core of his philosophy. He is heroic in the sense that he carries the flag for that.'
Kempton's sensitivity to the needs of others was of course inherently contradicted by his failure to recognise the needs of his family. His obsessive drive to make a difference, whether through his playwriting or his campaigning, his dreams of a better future, did not necessarily lead him to do the right thing.
With such a complex character at the heart of the film, the filmmakers needed to find the right actor to bring him to life.
'When Clive and I were writing the script, we could not think of anyone else but Jim Broadbent playing the role of Kempton,' Bean explains.
'We needed an actor who could convey that sense of hope, but also hopelessness too. Jim does that so effortlessly.' Coleman adds.
'If you've seen a picture of the real Kempton Bunton, you can also see there is a striking resemblance to Jim!' Bentham explains. 'I am sure audiences will fall in love with Kempton, Jim plays him so brilliantly with a charm, lovability and twinkle in his eye that perfectly suits Kempton.'
Having worked together previously on Le Week-End in 2013, Michell knew Broadbent was the right man for the job.
'Kempton is a natural hero. Jim's performance is such an affectionate portrayal, you cannot help loving him.'
When Broadbent was sent the script for consideration, he was happy to be reminded of the true story, having a vague recollection of the events from when he was a young boy.
'The script was delicious to read; it was wonderfully clever and so funny. It encapsulated the story and made it a great Robin Hood tale,' Broadbent recalls.
Taking on such a complex true-life character and a film that spoke to the times, further appealed to Broadbent.
'The whole story has such a strong message which the writers have told beautifully. Kempton put his head above the parapet for the good of others because it was in his nature to look out for everyone,' Broadbent explains. 'Kempton is a complicated character, the perfect balance of light and shade. He was an honourable man, but also slightly foolish. His heart was in the right place, but he also got things wrong!'
Knowing that he would be reunited with Michell as the director was another draw to the project.
'Roger is a wonderful filmmaker. He understands actors so well and what we can do and how to encourage us. I couldn't have been happier working with him again.'
Dorothy Bunton, the Breadwinner. Standing alongside Kempton at the heart of the film is his long-suffering wife, Dorothy Bunton, attempting to keep the family afloat whilst Kempton writes away in the back bedroom or is off campaigning, more engaged by the needs of his community than the needs of his family.
'Dorothy has a lot to contend with. She is the breadwinner in the house, bringing home the only regular wage by scrubbing the floors of a middle-class family,' Michell explains.
'Kempton is the dreamer, Dorothy is the glue that holds the family together,' Bentham continues.
As well as exploring the impact of Kempton's political idealism on his family, the film is also a portrait of two people coping with grief in very different ways. The death of their eldest child, Marian, was described as casting a pall over the real Bunton family. It fundamentally changed Dorothy, as Michell elaborates, 'Dorothy won't even visit her daughter's grave, which shows how profoundly damaged she was by this event; she can't talk about Marian. She is absolutely repressed.'
As much as the film focuses on Kempton and his antics, it also shows the process of Dorothy moving on to accept and deal with her grief.
'One of the storylines in the film follows how Dorothy is unlocked, understanding that it is ok to grieve the terrible loss of her daughter,' Michell elaborates. 'We see little bursts of the sweet person she clearly once was, the film is a very touching graph of how Dorothy comes out of hibernation.'
When Dorothy hangs Marian's framed portrait above the fireplace, having taken the photograph out of its hiding place in Kempton's desk, it shows the family is finally beginning to move on with its grief.
'Instead of the Duke of Wellington, this is the portrait they are going to focus on now, bringing them back together as a family,' Bentham explains.
One of the ways the filmmakers honoured the real Bunton family was to use the real portrait of Marian in the film. At the time, such colour painted photographs were very expensive, and Dorothy had to pay for the portrait in instalments.
Despite being kept in the dark about what Kempton is up to for the majority of the film, Dorothy is not a dupe; and whilst she feels beset on all sides by a family whose respectability is forever teetering on the edge of collapse, she cannot just be seen as a miserable nag. The production needed an actor with inherent strength and intelligence someone credible as the backbone of the family - someone who could also project the humanity of a decent, loving woman caught up in extraordinary events. Helen Mirren was top of their list.
'We knew Helen was incredibly in demand, so we thought it was going to be difficult to secure her. Thankfully, she fell in love with the script,' Bentham recalls.
'When they said they were sending the script to Helen, I thought there would be no chance she would do it,' Coleman recalls. 'It's so unlike what you expect from Helen Mirren, so we were utterly delighted when she said yes.'
'She is cast against type. We think of Helen Mirren as playing glamourous powerful woman,' Bean continues. 'Playing Dorothy, she had to play a slightly downtrodden, struggling woman and she's done it brilliantly.'
Despite being alive when the events unfolded, Mirren wasn't familiar with them.
'The whole story took me by surprise', said Mirren. 'You would want to take it with a pinch of salt if it wasn't all true. I loved the charm of the script; it was sweet and very endearing. I love the 1960s, it was a more naïve, innocent time.'
'Dorothy is the practical one, which the woman so often is in the family; she is keeping the family going. Kempton is the dreamer, but he is very committed and courageous in many ways,' Mirren continues. 'We should not only take a leaf out of Kempton's book, but also Dorothy's - dreaming is all very well, but you still need to pay the bills! So, let's hear it for the practical people in life too'
It was crucial that Broadbent and Mirren had the right chemistry.
'It's very important when playing an old married couple that the audience believe that relationship. With Jim, I slipped into the role of his wife very easily, there was no effort on my part,' Mirren explains.
The death of their young daughter has caused a change in the couple's previously happy marriage that neither one is able to talk about.
'There is a crack because of how they dealt with their grief differently. Dorothy suppressed it and tried to move on, whereas Kempton constantly revisited it in his writing,' Mirren explains.
With a lot more information available on Kempton, Mirren had to base her character solely on the script and one picture of Dorothy. From the picture, Mirren knew that getting into character would require a physical transformation.
'I was very surprised by how prepared Helen was to transform into Dorothy. She was completely unvain about the whole process. People will be astonished by what she's done,' Michell explains.
'Helen is the most incredibly glamorous woman and there is very little glamour to be found in a domestic cleaner in Newcastle in 1961, but she absolutely jumped at the chance to play such a character and embraced everything about Dorothy,' Bentham continues.
Working with Michell was a wonderful experience for Mirren, as she explains further:
'The nature of the story depicted in the film is very similar to Roger - it has his gentleness, his wonderful sense of humour and his wise acceptance of life. The material and the man himself really meld together and it manifests itself in the way he works on set.'
Broadbent concurs and adds that 'Helen was wonderful to work with; we had a great laugh on set - it was a real treat'.
Jackie Bunton, the Loyal Son. Jackie Bunton is the quiet, dependable, and loyal son, who wants to do the right thing and make his parents proud.
He is also for a large part of the film a young man with a secret, who is obliged to sit back and watch events unfold around him - events of which he is the cause. It is a hard role to play and the filmmakers were delighted when Fionn Whitehead agreed to came on board.
'Fionn has this incredible ability to focus when the camera is on him, turning into a very grounded and serious performer,' Bentham explains. 'We felt that was so important because Jackie is a character who is hiding in plain sight throughout a lot of the film. There is a real sense of mystery about him.' 'Jackie is an enigmatic figure and Fionn can do that so well, he broods and smoulders in the background,' Bean adds.
'There was something very intriguing about him as an actor,' Michell continues. 'He is a natural in front of the camera - there is a truth and simplicity to his acting - he reminded me of a young Tom Courtenay'.
For Whitehead, he was amazed by the true story when reading the script for the first time. 'It was an incredible story. It blew my mind that this painting was stolen by a boatbuilder from Newcastle. I also found it very moving, especially the background story of Marian's death and the family's grief.'
For Whitehead, understanding his character's reasoning behind the theft of the painting, helped him get into his character.
'I believe he stole the painting because of his pent-up frustration about his family's situation. He's inherited some of Kempton's disregard for the Establishment and has taken to heart a lot of the things his father says,' Whitehead elaborates. 'He simmers away for the whole film, a very quiet character who doesn't talk about what is going through his mind.'
'Jackie is in a very difficult position; he wants his parents to resolve the crisis between them. He wants to restore his father's status in his mother's eyes,' Coleman elaborates. 'He just decides on this totally crazy scheme by which to do it and steals a masterpiece from the National Gallery to resolve a family breakdown.'
With Michell as his director, Whitehead felt safe:
'I feel the same way about Roger as I do about Jim and Helen - I'm not worthy of commenting on how good they are because their reputation speaks for itself,' Whitehead explains. 'Roger's calmness is a testament to him as a director. He has the coolest head of anyone I've met, he seems virtually unflappable, I felt very safe in his hands.'
To have two British acting legends play his on-screen parents is also an experience Whitehead won't forget.
'I was ecstatic to be working with Jim and Helen, I couldn't ask for better parents! I have admired them from a distance for a long time. Being around them, hearing what they have to say, and watching their process when it comes to acting, was an incredible experience,' Whitehead recalls. Whitehead's on-screen parents were equally as impressed working with him. 'Fionn is an absolute natural. It is always so inspiring to work with young actors, they bring an energy and a belief that is very encouraging,' Mirren explains.
'Fionn is brilliant - these youngsters are so clever these days,' Broadbent concludes.
The real story of The Duke caused a major embarrassment to the Establishment. Not only had a masterpiece been stolen with apparent ease from the National Gallery, it had been stolen by an ordinary member of the public for ostensibly altruistic purposes. When it came to filming the court scenes, several of Kempton's speeches were lifted directly from the original transcripts. For Kempton, being in the dock finally gave him a platform and a captive audience.
'Kempton wasn't going to waste that moment, he had been waiting for an audience his whole life,' Bentham elaborates. 'You can see that in how his barrister, Jeremy Hutchinson, set up his questioning to allow Kempton to win over the jury.'
'Kempton was one hell of a performer in court. He had his 15 minutes of fame when he was at the Old Bailey and my god, did he make the most of it,' Bean elaborates. 'The public gallery was thoroughly entertained, and the British press were seduced - they all loved Kempton.'
When Kempton takes the stand, it is the first time the audience learns about Kempton's past life. It was also the first time that most of the actors in that courtroom had heard Kempton's speech. Much like the jury, they too were won over by Jim's performance.
'It's an incredible, funny, moving speech, which had the extras laughing and crying at the same time. It was an wonderful atmosphere and a really special moment which captured the emotion and the warmth and humour of Kempton,' Bentham recalls. Matthew Goode was delighted to take on the role of Jeremy Hutchinson, one of the most sought-after criminal barristers of the time, as he explains.
'It meant I got to work with Jim again, whom I love. What Jim did in the witness stand was very moving, every day was a masterclass in acting from him and working with Roger was a dream.' 'Matthew was brilliant as Hutchinson. He brought a really understated, intellectual wit to the role,' Bentham explains. 'Although Hutchinson came from a completely different social class, he was like Kempton in that he was drawn to fight on behalf of the underdog. They were well-matched.' Hutchinson's defence argument was so brilliant that it caused further embarrassment to the Establishment, leading the government to have to legislate to amend the law of theft so as to close the loophole that Hutchinson had opened (cf. the Theft Act, 1968).
In the early 1960s, Newcastle was still recovering from World War II and the heavy bombing that had targeted the city as a centre of shipbuilding. There was a major social and economic divide between the industrial towns of the North and the London of the swinging 60s. However, attitudes and opportunities were beginning to change, which Bentham explains further:
'Kempton's campaigning happened at a very specific moment in history when ordinary people started to move beyond automatic deference to make demands' As well as the Ealing Comedies, Michell took inspiration from a new wave of classic British films that emerged in the 60s that were set in Northern England; including A Taste of Honey (1961) and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1960).
For Production Designer Kristian Milstead, this provided an exciting opportunity. 'Roger loved the quiet, gritty black and white dramas from the early 60s, so the immediate challenge was to find a way to translate that world into a colour world and to find the right colour palette that could look not only cinematic and beautiful, but also simple.'
'Part of the colour palette is led by the fact our characters' clothes are not new,' Dinah Collin, costume designer, continues. 'The Buntons' clothes would have been hand-me-downs. It needed to feel like they hadn't bought anything new since the war. It was important to not have the distraction of a new outfit, so we only had a very few clothes for the family.'
The amount of photojournalism from the 1960s helped Collin build a look for Kempton and Dorothy: 'There was a photo of the real Kempton standing in his mac, he had his hands in his pockets and his braces outside his jumper instead of underneath,' Collin explains. 'It was very characterful, so we tried it with Jim and it gave us a great look.' Despite there being only one photograph of Dorothy from the time, an image of local housewife proved to be the starting point: 'It was a lovely image of a woman coming down a back alleyway; she was wearing an apron and her carpet slippers. Helen really liked that image, so we used it as a starting point to build her look,' Collin recalls.
Hair and make-up designer Karen Hartley Thomas was excited to work on another film with Michell and Broadbent, especially one set in the 1960s: 'When the script landed on my desk, I did a jump for joy. I love the 1960s and I had loved working with Roger and Jim before. The thought of turning Helen Mirren into a working-class cleaner was very appealing as well!'
Due to the modernisation of Newcastle, the filmmakers had to scout alternative locations for the exterior scenes of the film:
'Newcastle is absolutely transformed with wonderful, vibrant buildings. It's very hard to find a camera angle on anything in Newcastle where you don't feel the shock of the new,' Michell explains. In the end, the filmmakers were able to replicate 1960s Newcastle through a combination of Leeds and Bradford. 'Bradford was fantastic because there was so much there to work with that you wouldn't have been able to do in London, and the architecture there is incredible,' Milstead elaborates. For Mirren, she enjoyed her time in Yorkshire immensely.
'Leeds is a spectacular city; it is full of beautiful old Victorian architecture at the same time as being very modern. Bradford has a different vibe, you can feel it's history more,' Mirren recalls. To create the strong sense of social division, the filmmakers decided to present 1961 London in opulent technicolour: 'I saw this glorious colour archive from the 1960s and thought it would be tonally fun to drop Kempton into that material,' Michell explains. 'I wanted a look of shocking disparity between Northern England and London to show just how colourful and exciting London must have felt to Kempton at the time.'
The Power Of Community
In 2020, the COVID pandemic has brought into sharp focus the idea that the health of each depends on the health of all. Although the production finished shooting just before the full impact of the pandemic was felt in March, the editing and completion of the film had to take place during lockdown. 'Kempton espouses this sense of connectedness, that we are all responsible for each other, which in the current climate, feels particularly appropriate,' says Michell.
The Duke also dramatises the mission of one man to secure free access to television for the elderly. 60 years later this debate is still high on the political agenda. The pandemic seems to have confirmed that the national institution of the BBC provides a glue that helps keep communities together. 'Kempton was convinced, which I think is still highly relevant, that loneliness was the bane of old age,' Coleman explains. 'Television, this magical box in the corner of a living room, was the cure to loneliness, which for a lot of pensioners today, is still the case.'
'The idea that elderly people should be cut off, or as Kempton puts it, 'set adrift' is really tragic,' Bentham explains. 'I'm hoping that through the pandemic, people have come to realise how important free access to information and entertainment is.' Michell concurs: 'I'm a great champion for the BBC, it's also a place where many people in the industry were trained. It is impossible to work on anything without someone being in some way related to the mother ship that is the BBC,'.
As the world continues to come to terms with the aftermath of COVID, Kempton's message from sixty years ago feels even more relevant.
The Duke gives a shining example of how the actions of each and everyone one of us can make a difference and change society for the better. That message does, and will continue to, transcend the passage of time.
Jim Broadbent (Kempton Bunton) is an Academy Award®, BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning theatre, film and television actor, best known for roles in IRIS (for which he won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes in 2001); Moulin Rouge (for which he was awarded the BAFTA for performance in a Supporting Role in 2001) and the International phenomenon the Harry Potter franchise. He was BAFTA nominated most recently for his role alongside Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. He has since continued to appear in an eclectic mix of projects, including John S. Baird's scurrilous Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth; Roger Michell's romantic comedy drama Le Weekend (for which he was nominated for a British Independent Film Award as Best Actor); and The Harry Hill Movie, in which he appeared in drag as a three-armed cleaning lady. More recently Jim has starred in Christopher Smith's Christmas comedy Get Santa; Paul King's critically acclaimed Paddington films, based on the beloved children's books by Michael Bond, Nicholas Hytner's Lady In The Van; Sharon Maguire's Bridget Jones's Baby; Ritesh Batra's A Sense Of An Ending.
Since his film debut in 1978, Broadbent has appeared in countless successful and acclaimed films, establishing a long-running collaboration with Mike Leigh (Life Is Sweet, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake and Another Year) and demonstrating his talents as a character actor in films as diverse As The Crying Game, Bullets Over Broadway, Little Voice, Bridget Jones' Diary, Hot Fuzz, The Damned United and Cloud Atlas.
Also honoured for his extensive work on television, Broadbent has received a Royal Television Award and BAFTA nomination for his leading performance in Any Human Heart (based on William Boyd's novel of the same name), and had previously been recognised for his performance in Tom Hooper's Longford, winning a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, and his performance in The Street for which he won an Emmy. His earlier role in The Gathering Storm had earned him Golden Globe and Emmy nominations. Other selected credits include Birth Of A Nation - Tales Out Of School, Black Adder, Only Fools And Horses, Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV, The Young Visiters, Einstein & Eddington, Exile, The Great Train Robbery and London Spy.
Having studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Broadbent has also appeared extensively on the stage, notably with the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. His work on the stage has seen him appear in acclaimed productions ranging from Our Friends In The North by Peter Flannery at the RSC Pit and A Place With Pigs by Athol Fugard at The National, through to Habeas Corpus by Alan Bennett at The Donmar and The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh at The National. Recently he starred in Martin McDonagh's new play A Very Very Very Dark Matter at the Bridge.
Helen Mirren (Dorothy Bunton) has won an Academy Award®, Emmy, Tony, Screen Actors Guild Award and multiple BAFTA Awards and Golden Globes, as international recognition for her work on stage, screen, and television. For her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 of The Queen, she received an Academy Award®, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, and BAFTA Award for Best Actress. In 2014 she was honoured with the BAFTA Fellowship for her outstanding career in film.
Her film career began with Michael Powell's Age Of Consent, but her breakthrough film role came in 1980 in John Mackenzie's The Long Good Friday. Over the next 10 years, she starred in a wide range of acclaimed films, including Neil Jordan's Irish thriller Cal, for which she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival and an Evening Standard Film Award.
Mirren earned her first Academy Award® nomination for her portrayal of Queen Charlotte in Nicholas Hytner's The Madness Of King George, for which she also won Best Actress honours at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Her second Academy Award® nomination came for her work in Robert Altman's 2001 film Gosford Park. Her performance as the housekeeper also brought her Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominations, several critics groups' awards, and dual SAG Awards, one for Best Supporting Actress and a second as part of the winning ensemble cast. Most recently, Mirren earned both Academy Award® and Golden Globe nominations for her performance in The Last Station, playing Sofya Tolstoy and a Golden Globe and SAG Award nomination for her role in Hitchcock.
Recent film credits include; voicing Snickers in The One And Only Ivan, The Good Liar, Fast And Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, The Leisure Seeker, The Fate Of The Furious, Eye In The Sky, Trumbo, 100 Foot Journey, Red and Red 2, The Debt, Calendar Girls, State Of Play, The Tempest and Brighton Rock.
Most recently, on television she has recently been seen in a limited series for SKY/HBO in the title role of Catherine The Great for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe and Phil Spector alongside Al Pacino, for which she won a SAG Award for her performance and was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Mirren was also honoured for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in the HBO miniseries Elizabeth I, winning an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award.
Other television credits include the award-winning series Prime Suspect which earnt Mirren an Emmy Award and three BAFTA Awards. She won another Emmy Award and earned a Golden Globe nomination when she reprised her role of Detective Jane Tennison in 2006's Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act, the last instalment in the series.
Mirren began her career at the theatre and was recognised at an early age for her performance in Anthony and Cleopatra, she subsequently joined the RSC where she took leading roles in many productions. She has continued to return to the theatre throughout her career and most recently reprised her role as Queen Elizabeth II on Broadway in The Audience, a play by Peter Morgan, directed by Stephen Daldry, for which she won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. In 2013 she debuted her stage role of Elizabeth II in The Audience in London's West End, for which she received the Olivier Award and Evening Standard Award, and 2014 WhatsOnStage Award, for Best Actress.
Helen Mirren became a Dame of the British Empire in 2003.
Fionn Whitehead (Jackie Bunton) is well known for playing the lead in both the multi award winning Dunkirk and the Emmy Award winning Bandersnatch. Other credits include leading roles in Richard Eyre's The Children Act opposite Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci and Port Authority which was Exec Produced by Martin Scorsese and premiered in competition at Cannes. Whitehead will be seen next in Neil Burger's Voyagers and Alex McAulay's debut Don't Tell A Soul.
Anna Maxwell Martin's (Mrs Gowling) prolific career has earned her two BAFTA's (Best Actress, 2006 for Bleak House and Best Actress 2009 for Poppy Shakespeare) and a further three nominations. Her broad body of work showcases her versatility, with some of her best known TV credits including; North And South (BBC), The Bletchley Circle (ITV), Death Comes To Pemberley (BBC), Midwinter Of The Spirit (ITV), And Then There Were None (BBC) and Series 1 & 2 of Motherland (BBC).
She can also currently be seen in series 4 of Line Of Duty (BBC) and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens (Amazon). In 2020, she has starred in Armando Iannucci's feature The Personal History Of David Copperfield and Code 404 for Sky and will next be seen in Netflix's The Irregulars.
Matthew Goode (Jeremy Hutchinson) will next be seen in Matthew Vaughn's highly anticipated The King's Man, a World War I-set prequel to the fan favourite Kingsman series. He joins a stellar cast including Ralph Fiennes, rising star Harris Dickinson, Gemma Arterton, and Rhys Ifans. He will also star in Silent Night opposite Keira Knightley, Lily-Rose Depp, and Roman Griffin Davis. Written and directed by Camille Griffin. Goode will also appear in Medieval from Czech writer and director Petr Jakl. Additionally, he will reprise his role of Matthew Clairmont in the second series of Sky's fantasy drama A Discovery Of Witches. He was most recently seen in Four Kids And It alongside Russell Brand, Michael Caine, and Paula Patton.
Last year saw Goode star in Official Secrets, Gavin Hood's political thriller opposite Ralph Fiennes, Kiera Knightly and Matt Smith. He also made a cameo appearance reprising his role as fan favourite Henry Talbot in the Downton Abbey film with original cast members Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern.
In 2018, he starred alongside Lily James and Michiel Huisman in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mike Newell's adaptation of the New York Times bestseller of the same name. He was also seen in the BBC Agatha Christie adaptation Ordeal By Innocence, starring opposite Bill Nighy and Alice Eve. His portrayal of Tony Armstrong-Jones in Netflix royal drama The Crown opposite Claire Foy and Matt Smith was widely praised and secured him an Emmy nomination for 'Outstanding Guest Actor - Drama Series'.
Previous notable film credits include Allied (2016), the Robert Zemeckis spy thriller starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cottillard; The Imitation Game (2014), the acclaimed, Academy Award® - winning Alan Turing biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly; Belle (2013), Amma Asante's period drama; Stoker (2013), Chan-wook Park's psychological thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska; Leap Year (2010), romantic comedy starring Amy Adams; A Single Man (2009), Tom Ford's award-winning drama starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore based on Christopher Isherwood's novel of the same name; and Watchmen (2009), Zack Snyder's superhero smash hit.
Additional Television credits include Goode's portrayal of Henry Talbot in the popular Golden Globe and BAFTA winning period drama in Downtown Abbey (2014-2015); Finn Polmar in the CBS legal drama The Good Wife (2014-2015); Death Comes To Pemberly (2013), the BBC murder mystery mini series; Dancing On The Edge (2013), the golden globe nominated BBC drama starring Chiwetel Ejiofor; and Birdsong (2012) the two-part BBC drama starring Eddie Redmayne adapted from the Sebastian Faulks novel of the same name.
Jack Bandeira (Kenny Bunton) can most recently be seen in the second series of Sex Education, feature film Gunpowder Milkshake lead by Karen Gillan and Lena Heady, and the BBC drama Noughts And Crosses. He recently made his National Theatre debut in If Not Now, When as part of their New Views festival.
He is a recent graduate of LAMDA and can currently be seen in Netflix's feature film The King. He has filmed independent features such as Undercliffe, Parade, alongside episodes of Vera and Holby City.
Aimee Kelly as Irene - Most recently Kelly can be seen as 'Emily' in Armando Iannucci's The Personal History Of David Copperfield, which opened the BFI London Film Festival in 2019. Other credits include CBBC's Wolfblood for which she was nominated for Best Performer at the Children's BAFTA's and Sket which earned her a nomination for Best Newcomer at the BFI London Film Festival.
Charlotte Spencer (Pammy) is currently filming a leading role in Cinderella for Sony. Most recently, she could be seen as Esther Denham in ITV's Sanditon, Channel 4's Baghdad Central and Misbehaviour.
In 2015, Spencer was named as one of Screen International's Stars of Tomorrow, as well as being nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the BAFTAs for her role in Glue. She went on to star in Stonemouth, alongside Peter Mullan and Christian Cooke for the BBC, and The Living And The Dead, alongside Colin Morgan. Spencer also starred in feature film Bypass, opposite George MacKay, which was nominated for Best Film at Venice Film Festival. Other credits include Broad Squad for ABC and Line Of Duty for BBC.
In theatre, she appeared in Love In Idleness at The Apollo Theatre and The Steven Ward Project at The Aldwych Theatre.