A film perhaps best known for the performance (or should that be performances?) of the late Alec Guiness
, this Ealing comedy
remains fresh and brilliantly funny almost 60 years after its release.
As the tale begins, we are introduced to our hero Louis Mazzini (Denis Price) as he sits in his prison cell awaiting execution for murder, a crime we discover later, he was not responsible for. Mazzini is writing his memoirs and as he works we learn of his dark past.
After learning that his mother once belonged to the wealthy D’ayscoyne family, Mazzini sees the position as Duke of Charlfront as rightfully his and sets about murdering the eight D’Ascoynes that stand between himself and his dukedom.
Kind hearts and Coronets is a black comedy produced by the legendary Ealing Studio in the 1949. Ealing’s films often focused on the fight of the little man against plutocracy and authority (See Whisky Galore). This trend is continued here with the primary theme here concerning class. When the film was made, Britain was beginning to move away from the traditions of a rigid social hierarchy and this is reflected in the way the film-makers refuse to condemn Mazzini’s actions. Indeed the audience is invited to delight in some of the more elaborate ways in which the hapless D’ascoynes are dispatched. Make no mistake, Louis is a sympathetic individual and credit for this should go largely to Denis Price who‘s character, lets not forget, is a serial killer
Credit should also go to director and co-writer Robert Hammer who succeeds in taking such a dark premise and producing a film that delights and amuses its audience. Much of this is down to his and Roy Horniman’s superlative, economic script which, though never featuring any laugh out load moments is consistently subtle, witty and packed with irony.
Price and Hamer’s contributions should are sound but this is undoubtedly Alec Guiness’ picture. The British thespian (perhaps more famous for his role in another Ealing classic: The Ladykillers and a science fiction film from the late 1970s) plays the entire D’Ayscoyne family, a crowd that includes a reverend, a ship’s captain and even Lady Agatha, a suffragette who falls from a balloon over London. His performance is one that the phrase tour de force was surely invented for.
The superlative, economic script; Wonderful performances; incisive direction and a brilliantly appropriate ending amount to career bests for all involved, not least the studio itself..