LONDON — Nicholas Martin, the writer of Stephen Frears’ “Florence Foster Jenkins,” is attached to write the screenplay for “The Duke.” Pathe is handling international sales on “The Duke,” is co-producing the pic, and will distribute it in the U.K., France and Switzerland.
“The Duke,” which is being produced by Nicky Bentham of Neon Films, is a bittersweet true story about the value of family and the price of art. Set in 1961, it centers on Kempton Bunton, a 57-year-old bus driver and would-be playwright from Newcastle, who stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery.
Kempton had been outraged that the British government had spent a fortune buying the Goya for the nation at a time when so many faced hardship. He sent a ransom note saying he would return the painting on condition that the government granted every senior citizen a free television license.
But no one took his demand seriously. Four years after the theft, Kempton returned the painting and handed himself in. At his trial, he charmed the jury and was found not guilty on the grounds that he had never intended to keep or personally profit from taking the painting.
It was an astonishing result, but perhaps what is more astonishing is that the version of events presented by Kempton at his trial was untrue. The court had provided him with a stage on which to perform his greatest work of fiction — a tale that was spun to protect his wife and to save his son.
Neon is producing the pic in collaboration with the Bunton family.
Pathe releases “Florence Foster Jenkins,” starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, on May 6 in the U.K.