Kind Hearts and Coronets
(1949) 106 mins
Director: Robert Hamer
Writers: Robert Hamer, from the novel by Roy Horniman
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Art Direction: William Kellner
Music: Ernest Irving
To celebrate its 70th birthday we are proud to present the greatest of all the Ealing comedies in its newly-restored format.
Dennis Price is Louis Mazzini, an embittered young draper’s assistant whose mother was disinherited by her aristocratic family for marrying a commoner. Spurned by his childhood sweetheart Sibella (Joan Greenwood), and discovering that he is only eight steps away from the dukedom of Chalfont, he determines to avenge his mother and claim his rightful inheritance. Unfortunately, eight relatives, all played by the incomparable Alec Guinness, must be eliminated before he can do so. And when he becomes romantically involved with one of the widows he has created (Valerie Hobson), he finds that Sibella’s jealousy could seriously threaten his grand design.
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Showings of this film are part of our Cinematheque season which is supported by the British Film Institute.
“Kind Hearts and Coronets, following closely as it does on Whisky Galore and Passport to Pimlico, completes a remarkable trio of comedies from Ealing Studios. Quality it shares with its predecessors, a degree (of fantasy too). There similarity ends, originality begins: the joke, repeated with variation, is an aspect of murder. A joke in bad taste? On the contrary, the taste is impeccable. Lamb, wishing to enjoy the wit of Restoration comedy, excused its indecency on the grounds that the characters had no reality and their actions therefore needed no reprobation. It is a major achievement of this film that just such an atmosphere of artificiality, so necessary if death is to be humorous, is established from the start. . . To glance at Roy Horniman’s novel is to realise the achievement of Robert Hamer and John Dighton, authors of the screenplay. They have transformed an Edwardian melodrama, whose only humours are of the unconscious variety, into a high comedy that is enlivened with cynicism, loaded with dramatic irony and shot through with a suspicion of social satire.” The Telegraph, 1949
“Such a story of unmitigated contempt for the fundamental laws or society could only be tolerable when played as a spoof—a spoof on the highest level of cultivated humor and device. And that, thanks to all who made this picture—and to Mr. Guinness’ incredible skill at vivid impersonation—is what this picture is.” New York Times, 1950
“The Ealing genre reached utter perfection with this superb black comedy of manners, made in 1949, and now on rerelease for its 70th birthday. It’s history’s greatest serial-killer movie, directed by Robert Hamer and adapted by Hamer with accomplished farceur John Dighton from the 1907 novel by Roy Horniman. Dennis Price gave a performance that he was, sadly, never again to equal as Louis Mazzini, the suburban draper’s assistant who becomes the most elegant serial killer in history. Finding himself by a quirk of fate distantly in line to a dukedom, and infuriated by this aristocratic family’s cruel treatment of his mother, he sets out to murder everyone ahead of him in line to the ermine. Alec Guinness gives a miraculously subtle and differentiated multi-performance as all eight members of the noble clan. Joan Greenwood is in her element as the honey-voiced siren Sibella, with whom Louis is briefly entranced, and Valerie Hobson is utterly convincing as the morally pure Edith D’Ascoyne, whom Louis is to marry.“ The Guardian, 2019
“A vicious comedy that brims with delights.” Eye for Film