Roger Michell’s final feature film brings good-natured, Ealing-style brio to the 1961 theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington
As with so many of cinema’s most successful practitioners, the South Africa-born British film-maker Roger Michell, who died last September aged 65, was not an “auteur” with a singular distinctive style. On the contrary, he was a versatile craftsman who could turn his hand to a range of genres with ease. From the classic Richard Curtis romcom Notting Hill to the American thriller Changing Lanes and the deliciously twisty Daphne du Maurier dark romance My Cousin Rachel, Michell instinctively understood the differing demands of each story he was telling. He adapted Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia for TV with great success, gave Anne Reid her finest role in the taboo-breaking, Kureishi-scripted drama The Mother, and directed a sorely underrated screen adaptation of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love, the bravura opening movement of which has haunted me for years.
Michell’s documentary about the Queen, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts, comes to cinemas and streaming in June. Meanwhile, his last dramatic feature film, The Duke, is finally getting a belated cinema release following Covid-related delays. It’s an extremely likable crime-caper comedy that owes a tonal debt to such Charles Crichton classics as Hue and Cry and The Lavender Hill Mob – good-natured British romps that helped to turn Ealing Studios into one of the nation’s most revered institutions. The fact that The Duke is based on a true story just accentuates its sense of homegrown eccentricity.