The amazing true story behind a new movie set in Newcastle - and why it wasn’t actually filmed in the city

A new heist-comedy is pegged for a 2022 release, with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren set to star in the story of Newcastle-born art thief, Kempton Bunton.

Jim Broadband stars in The Duke, a heist film set in Newcastle and based on a true story

What is The Duke about?

The Duke follows the amazing true story of Kempton Bunton, a retired bus driver who allegedly stole the Portrait of the Duke of Wellington painting from the National Gallery.

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Reports at the time suggest that Bunton was enraged by the sale of Francisco Goya’s painting to America, and was angered at having to pay his license fee from his £8-a-week income (£182.67 today).

His heist was a success, and on the 21st August 1961, Bunton was said to have prised the painting from the display and escaped via a window he had cracked open on a visit earlier that day.

Bunton reportedly stole the painting as he wanted ransom money to buy TV licenses for the poor. A request for £140,000 and amnesty for the art thief was received in writing by Reuters, but was declined.

Four years later, Bunton voluntarily returned the painting and handed himself into the police, who at first ignored his claim as a potential suspect.

Bunton was found not guilty of stealing Goya’s painting, but was handed a three-month sentence for stealing the picture frame.

The impact of the trial led to the enactment of Section 11 of the Theft Act 1968, making it illegal to remove any object displayed to the public in a public building without permission.

Later reports suggest that Bunton was likely not the mastermind behind the heist. In 2012, a Freedom of Information request found that Bunton’s son, John, had confessed to the theft in 1969, although no further action was taken.

The change from Newcastle to York

Despite Bunton having resided in Newcastle, the filming of The Duke took place in York, with sets and stages built to look like Newcastle.

A collaborative production from Pathé and Screen Yorkshire saw the story of Bunton brought to life, but filming was primarily on location in West Yorkshire.

Investments from Screen Yorkshire offer up to £500,000 per project.

To replicate the streets of Newcastle, special effects and sets were built in West Yorkshire. Green screen effects are used to replicate London, and a set was built for the National Gallery.

Who has been cast in The Duke?

Academy Award-winner Jim Broadbent stars as Kempton Bunton, with The Duke portraying Bunton as a 60-year-old taxi driver.

His role brings to life the only recorded heist in the National Gallery’s history.

Alongside Broadbent is Helen Mirren as Kempton’s wife, Dorothy Bunton and Matthew Goode as British barrister Jeremy Hutchinson. Fionn Whitehead and Anna Maxwell Martin are also included.

Mirren’s well-practised Geordie accent features in the film’s trailer

When is The Duke released?

Initially set for a November 2020 release, Pathé, the production studio behind the film, have pushed the release date back to sometime in 2022.

No set date has been given for the release of the film, but The Duke had its world premiere at Venice Film Festival in September 2020.

The Duke has released to positive reviews, with a 100% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 13 different reviews.

The trailer for The Duke can be watched below.