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Kind Hearts and Coronets: DVD Review
June 21, 2019
The Ealing Comedies (1947-1956) are uniquely British in their dark approach to humour, eccentricity and style. By adopting a less serious tone after the World War II years, they are rightly so considered some of the greatest films produced on English shores, alongside Powell and Pressburger et al. Re-released to celebrate its original 70th anniversary, Kind Hearts & Coronets finds itself once again back in the limelight with a new 4K restoration thanks to StudioCanal.
Following a young gentleman, Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini (Dennis Price), who has been cast out of his noble claim to the affluent D’Ascoyne Family, the film plays out as a macabre tale of murders that are all driven by a greed for noble power. Commencing in a noir-esque fashion, all told through the voiceover of Louis, his distinct awfully posh tones make for charming listening. Thrown out of the D’Ascoyne household and family inheritance, his mother (Audrey Fildes) married Louis’ Italian father for love instead of power. Subjected to a life of relative poverty, in comparison to his wealthy relatives, Louis’ mission is to remove all the inheritors of the D’Ascoyne dukedom, in order to gain total control of their wealth and estate.
However, along the way, his mischievous nature leads to additional problems, chiefly in his relationships with the married Sibella (Joan Greenwood) and Edith (Valerie Hobson). The effortless easy to which Louis successfully pulls off ingenious murders makes for joyous sadistic viewing, all supported by Price’s alluring performance.
Set against the backdrop of aristocratic life in the post-war years, suburbia in Clapham and the D’Ascoyne’s family home of Chalfont Castle in Kent all possess a distinct tone and mood. The world to which the film creates feels genuine, even though interiors were shot in Ealing Studio in Acton. A pivotal factor in viewing Louis’ derange obsession of murder with a relative amount of empathy, the film’s atmosphere renders the man with pathos; he is never cast as pure evil. Through Price’s effortless performance and the mise-en-scene, Roy Horniman’s novel is brought to glorious cinematic life.
Another critical element to the film’s success is the presence of Alec Guinness. Playing no more than eight roles in the role, his ability to effortlessly disappear into numerous characters in the D’Ascoyne family has become iconic of the actor’s career, alongside his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Comedically referencing the genetic resemblances of royal intermarriage, infamously unearthed in the Habsburg Jaw, this gag was only created in part thanks to Guinness’ amusing nature. After being offered all the male characters by director Robert Hamer, the actor jokingly claimed he would play all the characters in the family; the rest is British cinematic history. A further comedic reference to English Renaissance theatre including only male actors in their productions, this masterstroke allows Guinness to express himself.
In amongst the compact script, Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography is expansive even with the constructed interior sets. In part thanks to the lavish mise-en-scene, the camera is allowed to roam around the sweeping halls of Louis’ batchelor pad with ease. Shooting the wide exteriors with clarity, Chalfont Castle is framed central to alluded towards Louis’ undying desires for it. Further, Anthony Mendleson’s costumes add another layer of decedence to this lavish slice of British cinema. Expressed chiefly in the D’Ascoyne’s family, their noble stature is adorned in the finest cloths, none ever looking fake. Particularly in the elaborate hair pieces, an extravagance is established that filters through to the actors, particularly Alec Guinness’s Lady Agatha.
Packed to the brim with special features, featuring a brand new featurette from Whit Stillman, audio commentary with Terence Davies, Peter Bradshaw and Matthew Guinness John Landis intro, with behind the scenes stills, this release is the ultimate package. Containing one of the greatest endings to a film I can recall in a long time, Kind Hearts and Cornets is the definite Ealing Comedy.
Kind Hearts & Coronets: The Collector’s Edition is out on June 24th 2019.
Words by Alasdair Bayman @alasdairbayman.
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