The movie reimagines the surreal true story of a stolen Goya painting from the National Gallery in London.
Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent
In the summer of 1961, a man snuck through an open window in the men’s bathroom into the National Gallery in London and stole the Duke of Wellington’s Portrait of Francisco Goya from its work table display. Then he slipped out of the window, committing the museum’s first ever theft, a heist that has captivated England for years.
In the upcoming movie The Duke, directed by Roger Michell and starring Oscar winners Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent, the story is now being dramatized. The movie, scheduled to start shooting in January, will follow the man’s life story that was eventually revealed as the thief.
The painting, which had only been on view when it was boosted for 19 days, made headlines when it was acquired because a businessman from New York had tried to buy the work at the auction, but ultimately allowed the London museum to keep it and prevent the “national treasure” from being exported to America.
Newspapers received an increasingly bizarre series of letters, supposedly written by the robber, after the heist. He said the theft was “an attempt to pick the pockets of those who love art more than charity… the picture is not and will not be for sale, it is for ransom,” priced at £140,000.
Another letter stated that the “sole object” of the thief was to create a charity so that the elderly and the poor, who are “neglected in a wealthy society,” would not have to pay for television licenses.

Detectives from Scotland Yard searching for the men’s bathroom that allowed the thief to enter. Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
For years, the mystery continued until a final letter confirmed that “Goya’s Wellington is safe” and that the whole thing was “an ambitious joke” going too far. Now the thief was able to “go back the damn thing.”
A luggage tag was sent to a local newspaper pointing to the painting that was found in a locker to be safe and sound. Kempton Bunton, a former taxi driver, turned in to the authorities.
Eventually, Bunton was cleared of all but one charge, and the incident led to the development of the 1968 Theft Act, which made stealing publicly displayed items a crime.
The next movie is not the first time that the strange past of the Duke has been projected onto the big screen. The first film in the James Bond saga, Dr. No, put the portrait on display in a villain’s lair in 1962, when the painting was still missing. The crime story was also dramatized in the 2016 book The Duke of Wellington, Kidnapped! The Art Heist That Shocked a Nation’s Amazing True Story.


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