Released at the height of Ealing’s reign over British comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets is undoubtedly a classic of all genres. The Robert Hamer directed classic finds itself back on our cinema screens on August 19th, and on DVD and Blu-ray from the 5th September.
The film sees Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) desperate to remove eight members of his family (all played by the legend that is Sir Alec Guiness) to become the 10th Duke of D’Ascoyne. Along the way, he romances the scheming Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood) and the gorgeous Edith D’Ascoyne (Valerie Hobson). If one was to categorize this film, it would fall into the category of ‘black comedy’. Today, the art of ‘black comedy’ is misconstrued by filmmakers whether they use it for the justification of several swear words or to use it as an excuse for moments that just shouldn’t be. However, Kinds Hearts and Coronets is simply a cut above these modern attempts as it overwhelms you with its class, charisma and humour.
Throughout the film, Mazzini gleefully knocks off D’Ascoyne’s that would make James Bond swoon such as ‘I was sorry about the girl, but found some relief in the reflection that she had presumably during the weekend already undergone a fate worse than death’. It provides further evidence for the old cliché ‘they don’t make them like this anymore’. Guinness is, without doubt, brilliant as all 8 different members of the D’Ascoyne family with my personal favourite being Henry – the secret drinker/photography fanatic. These scenes make murder hilarious as Louis and Edith (Henry’s wife) discussing pleasantries, when all of sudden the explosion that removes Henry from this earth takes place. Yet, it is only when the smoke becomes obvious that anyone takes notice. It’s great comic acting from all with Hamer and John Dighton’s script providing them with ample material to entertain.
This film is often remembered for Alec Guinness’ portrayal of 8 different roles rather than the greatness of the overall product. Case in point, many have forgotten the strength of Dennis Price’s performance as our central protagonist. As the narrator throughout, he shows deft skill in balancing drama and comedic timing. Indeed, with Alec Guinness portraying so many characters, the film needs Price to hold the film together. Sadly for Price, Kind Hearts was the pinnacle of his great career, as he suffered from severe alcoholism throughout the 50′s. Therefore, one must watch this film if only for the sole reason of admiring a bright talent that disappointingly never reached these heights again.
Kind Hearts and Coronets is a classic that is still fantastically funny 60 years since its release. When one observes recent comedic efforts such as Horrible Bosses and The Hangover Part II – it is hard to imagine them being re-released at cinemas and on DVD for the third time. This new version is crisper and provides better definition to highlight the excellent work of DoP Douglas Slocombe. In today’s film world, it is impossible to find a comedy, let alone a black comedy, that does not feel the need to use swear words which makes watching a classic like this refreshing. Kinds Hearts and Coronets is simply a cut above modern films as it bursts at the seams with comedic gold and downright class.