Roger Michell’s final feature retells story of the cussed Newcastle pensioner who stole a Goya portrait in protest at government spending priorities
For what has become his final feature film, director Roger Michell made this sweet-natured and genial comedy in the spirit of Ealing, which bobs up like a ping pong ball on a water-fountain. It is based on the true story of Kempton Bunton, the Newcastle bus driver who in 1965 was had up at the Old Bailey for stealing Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery. The mystery of its disappearance had so electrified the media that there was even a gag about it in the James Bond film Dr No, using a copy personally painted by the legendary production designer Ken Adam, which was itself stolen. Maybe there should be a film about that as well.
The court heard this was Bunton’s protest at government misuse of taxpayers’ money (the painting had been saved for the nation at some cost) and to publicise his demand for pensioners to be given free TV licences. (This film features the usual “historical coda” sentences over the closing credits, and one sentimentally records that free TV licences for the over-75s were finally introduced in 2000. But no mention of these being taken away again in 2020.)