Pathe Announces 'The Duke,' Signs Up 'Florence Foster Jenkins' Writer

Nicholas Martin is penning the screenplay about a retired bus driver who stole a famed painting from London's National Gallery in 1961.

As the world prepares to hear Meryl Streep's out-of-tune warblings in Stephen Frears' Florence Foster Jenkins (due for release in the U.K. next month), the film's writer, Nicholas Martin, has already been recruited for another comedy-tinged real-life story from French/U.K. banner Pathe.

The Duke will tell the story of Kempton Bunton, a retired British bus driver who in 1961, at the age of 57, stole Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London.

Outraged that the government had paid $390,000 during a time of hardship to keep the painting in the country (a rich American art collector had planned to take it to the U.S.), the pensioner allegedly hatched an elaborate plan that involved entering and escaping the gallery via a loosened window in the toilet.

Bunton later sent a letter requesting a donation to pay for TV licenses for the poor, but few took it seriously and, four years after the theft, he returned the painting and turned himself in. Following the trial, however, it would emerge that the the version of events presented by the defendant had been untrue and concocted to protect his family. 

By that stage, however, the crime had already entered popular culture, with the painting displayed in the lair of Dr. No in the 1962 James Bond film.

The film is being produced by Nicky Bentham of Neon Films in full collaboration with the Bunton family.