As the director’s last feature – a true-life crime caper – finally opens, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, Anna Maxwell Martin and more remember the quiet genius of British cinema

On 4 September 2020, Roger Michell and Jim Broadbent came to Venice to unveil a British film called The Duke. The forecast was stormy and the festival was in peril, staged in defiance of a global pandemic, with tubs of hand sanitiser on the red carpet and thermal cameras at the doors. The premiere shouldn’t have worked and yet somehow it did. Afterwards, Broadbent recalls, he and the director unhooked their masks and breathed a sigh of relief. “I remember turning to Roger and saying: ‘Oh, I am glad that we came.’”

I was in Venice that day; I was glad they came, too. The premiere was a hit and The Duke was a hoot, a boisterous true-crime caper, pungently set in early 60s Newcastle and spotlighting the theft of a famous oil painting. Michell’s timing was impeccable. He delivered the perfect picture for the perfect moment, a tonic for flagging spirits. For a few hours at least, The Duke felt like a reaffirmation of core values, a tale of the past that pointed to a brighter tomorrow. Indirectly, it assured us that everything was OK. But 18 months later, the world is still waiting to see it.

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