Art-theft movies are a popular genre unto themselves. But every movie about someone stealing a priceless work of art from a high-security art gallery must, of course, be measured against what is inarguably the genre’s gold standard: No, not The Thomas Crown Affair — I’m talking about The Great Muppet Caper. How does The Duke, the final film from the director of Notting Hill, compare? Let’s consider.

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren — two great actors in some unremarkable scenes. [Image from the Pathé trailer.]

This time around, the stolen art is not really the “hook” that will draw audiences in. Who robbed London’s National Gallery? Who stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington? Who cares? No… the hook is this: It’s a true story. In 1961, Newcastle taxi driver Kempton Bunton decided to make a big noise about the indignity of being a London pensioner — particularly the fact that the elderly had to pay for access to television. How did he do it? The story is a little more complicated than you might suspect, but not much.

If you’re like me, you’ll find that there’s a better hook than the “Based on a True Story” banner: You’ll see this because it stars two of England’s finest: the great Jim Broadbent as the irrepressible troublemaker, and Helen Mirren as his long-suffering wife Dorothy.

And even so, you may not be entirely satisfied.

The art in question: Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Is it worth all the fuss? [Image from the Pathé trailer.]

Has any actor been more reliable and stable than Broadbent over the last 30 years? I’d be hard-pressed to think of even a few worth comparing to his consistent record. But Broadbent is in a familiar mode here: lovable, good-hearted, a little dopey, talking to almost everyone like a doting grandfather talks to his small grandchildren. I can’t imagine he need to prep at all for this role. Kempton Bunton is a far simpler character, requiring a far simpler performance, than what we’ve seen Broadbent give as a large-hearted neighbor in Mike Leigh’s Another Year, as the master of ceremonies in Moulin Rouge!, or as the resilient John Bayley in Richard Eyre’s Iris (which won the actor an Oscar). I always enjoy watching him, but this material is too slight to be remembered as one of his best roles.

All I’ve said about Broadbent is even more true for Mirren. She’s playing a far simpler version of the burdened housekeeper she played in Gosford Park, and while she does a lot with an almost thankless role, it’s still not enough to be worth mentioning in a retrospective of her impressive career. I feel a bit sorry for her here. She should be investing in far stronger stuff than this.

And beyond that, well… other than Matthew Goode’s reliable sincerity, there’s no one here making enough of an impression to give us quotable moments or scenes we’ll want to revisit.

It just doesn’t feel like anybody is on their A-game here. Even for Michell, a pro at making witty, respectable entertainment, this feels a little too easygoing. It’s not a grand finale to his career; it’s like an encore where he plays an endearing crowdpleaser with a simple chorus about making the world a better place, one we can sing along to.

Art thief on trial! And the jury says that Broadbent … has been stronger in other films. [Image from the Pathé trailer.]

The screenplay by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman is amusing enough that this might make for a fine rainy-day Sunday afternoon streaming option for the Masterpiece Theatre crowd. I have no argument with Bunton’s quixotic idealism, which leads him to seize his courtroom appearances as opportunities to campaign for a kinder, more generous London. As The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, addressing his fellow Brits, writes, “Although the England it depicts disappeared half a century ago, it speaks mindfully and movingly to our own divided times — asking how institutions should best serve the public that funds them, and speaking up for those who find themselves excluded by class, geography or birth.” And I’m all but helpless when Michell ambushes us with the most shameless use of the hymn “Jerusalem” since Chariots of Fire.

“You could dine on nothing but lard for twenty years and still not develop the hardness of heart necessary to avoid being won over by [this film],” claims Jessica Kiang at The Playlist. Well, I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I have a heart of stone. But I’m not thrilled I drove for 40 minutes through a torrential downpour on a Sunday afternoon to see this in a theater. If art-gallery shenanigans were what I wanted, I might’ve been wiser to stay home and watch Nicky Holiday (Charles Grodin) plot to steal the extravagant “Baseball Diamond” from his sister Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg) only to find his plans complicated by Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, and a particularly agitated Miss Piggy. Now that’s entertainment!

*Note: The title of my post might be misleading: Michell made a documentary about Queen Elizabeth II that has not yet been released. So, if you’re counting non-fiction films, he still has one on the way!