Kind Hearts and CoronetsU
1949 was somewhat a golden year for Ealing studios, as it saw the release of three of their more popular films: Whisky Galore!, Passport to Pimlico and Kind Hearts and Coronets. And although they were all very much products of the Ealing studios system, it's still quite surprising to see a film that follows the exploits of a serial killer do so well for its day.
Families are funny things. Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is the heir to quite a fortune – or he would have been if his mother hadn't eloped with an Italian opera singer, causing the entire D'Ascoyne family to shun and disown her.
Louis finds that he now has to live in relative poverty compared to his rich aristocratic family. This bothers him no end, so decides he'll do something about it. The only way he sees that he can get his hands on what he feels he's entitled to, is to remove every single member of the D'Ascoyne family in line for the dukedom of Chalfont, until he's the last one standing. With over eight members ahead of him, Louis goes about cutting off every branch of his family tree. But can he really get away with so many murders?
There's something rather joyous about seeing the likes of Kind Hearts and Coronets back on the silver screen. Although many are used to seeing classics like this on TV these days, there's nothing quite like seeing them on the big screen where they belong and for where they were originally intended.
Although much is made of the fact that Sir Alec Guinness plays eight characters in the film, his presence throughout is positively subdued. Where an actor could quite easily go over the top not once but eight times, Guinness employs great restraint and subtlety into each and every one of his characters. In doing so, he allows Price to shine even more as Mazzini.
Price comes across as the perfect gentlemen throughout, despite being a vengeful serial killer. It's a testament to his performance that despite feeling sorry for one or two of his victims, who just so happen to have the D'Ascoyne name, audiences are willing to forgive Mazzini for his wrong-doings, because although he happens to be a killer, he also comes across as a thoroughly decent chap.
Much of this is down to Price hitting every note of his character pitch perfect, but he gets a lot of help from a superb script that is full to the brim with elegantly dark dialogue.
And if you can't catch this true classic on the big screen, never fear, as a fully-restored version appears on DVD & Blu-ray soon after (5th September 2011).
Kind Hearts and Coronets is not only an incredibly black comedy for its time, but it also serves as a reminder that the UK once had a thriving film industry that didn't have to solely rely on schoolboy wizards to keep it going.