Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Film review: KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (Robert Hamer, 1949)

When possible Duke Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price)’s mother dies, she leaves him a dying wish of being buried in his aristocratic family’s plot who have shunned her all her life, he sets about getting it done. Imagine his fury and dismay when they say no. 

He sets about getting revenge, as well as winning the heart of the mercenary woman he loves through murdering each of the eight d’Ascoyne family members that stand between him and a title, riches, and everything that he feels he's entitled to.

Wearing the Ealing black comedy streak on its sleeve and gleefully black, Kind Hearts and Coronets has got to be one of the funniest films about murder to be made. Much of this owes kudos to Alec Guinness’ fantastic performance, a true tour-de-force in comedy.

He plays all eight of the family members, from the suffragette feminist Lady Agatha d’Ascoyne, to the dull and dim Reverend d’Ascoyne with commendable diversity, changing his tone, stature, facial expressions and accent to play each character as if they were a completely new person. Such a performance could only prepare us for good things, which Guinness then continued to deliver in The Bridge on the River Kwai and Star Wars, to name but a few titles.

Dennis Price takes the lead excellently. As Louis Mazzini d'Ascoyne, he murders, poisons and drowns each of the characters without a sense of remorse that could seem cold and inhumane, but the audience find amusing. We eagerly await his calculation of the death of another, because we know it will have wicked consequences, and the plot never holds back. 

However, his dry narration tells a story that hides a sad tinge, as well as delivering sardonic social commentary on post-war Britain, where the gold digging (played with disgusting sugariness by Joan Greenwood) women were everywhere and to some people, rank was all that mattered. This is what makes each of the deaths so comical, giving us a little glee that the snobs are getting what they deserve.

For those who don’t want to watch a film for the history lesson, no fear – Kind Hearts and Coronets truly shines as a comedy. Even now, the one-liners and biting irony rings and every scene has a joke to laugh at. Under director Robert Hamer’s capable hands, a warm-hearted and unforgettable satire has been crafted. 

You really can’t get much better, or much intelligent than this.



The rest of my film reviews are archived here.


Anonymous said...

Nice review (again).

Amazingly enough I watched KH&C myself only a few weeks back. It's a very amusing film and I think the way the ending plays out is a gem because you can believe what you like as regards the fate of Louis. Alec, as you've already pointed out, is a total delight (I think my favourite was his amateur photographer character) and I really like Joan Greenwood who is, let's be honest here, the very definition of the phrase 'sex on legs!' As an actress Greenwood had an extraordinary erotic quality about her that many of her dull, repressed British contemporaries can't come anywhere near matching. Her death at just 66 was terribly premature. It's a great shame she didn't start in the business 20 years later when a less censorious regime might have allowed her greater leeway. As it is she's still a standout in many of her films.

On the subject of great British movies how about reviews of stuff like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (nope, not the TV series), Hell Drivers (amazing cast!) or Ice Cold In Alex?

j.l said...

Curds and whey

j.l said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jason said...

Hey. MSN is being a pain, won't let me login. Is anyone else having his problem?

jackie said...

I saw on IMDb that you said you liked the Harry Potter books. Why not write an entry about them?

kate said...

I just saw Lola Rennt yesterday. Very thrilling!

Emma said...

Re Jason: Yup. My MSN doesn't work either.

Re Kate: I know! It rules.

Re Jackie: Interesting idea. I got the Harry Potter audiobooks for my birthday and have been listening religiously. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

another bad review ho hum

Lisa said...

Excellent review. I have this film and I'll watch it soon.

Kim said...

Well, I had a look around, like you told me to on your e-mail, and I like what I see.

Now pick Royal Hollaway as your first choice!

Joanne said...

Good review,looks like a good old fashioned film.

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