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Kind Hearts and Coronets

A dated classic that still manages to raise a smile

Movie Specs

Starring Dennis PriceAlec GuinnessValerie HobsonJoan Greenwood Movie Poster
Directed By Robert Hamer Certificate U
Running Time 99 mins
UK Release Date August 19, 2011
Genre Comedy
Our Rating
User Rating

Held up as the quintessential Ealing comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets gets a cinema re-release ahead of its scrubbed up DVD, looking crisp, sharp and sounding as witty as ever. So why only three stars? Surely this is the ultimate British satire on class and ambition?

Well, it is and it isn’t. Time has not been kind to a film that was made in 1949, when the idea of the British class system was under some suspicion. Put simply it is slow, dull at times and suffers from a seemingly interminable voice-over. At times it feels like a short story being read out by the central figure more than an actual film. A scene towards the end is a classic example – there is some subtle word play between the accused man and his potential saviour, and the narrator deems it necessary to explain what has just taken place.

Dennis Price – wonderful – plays Louis Mazzini, whose mother was a member of the D’Ascoyne aristocratic family but who married an opera singer and both she and he were cast out. He determines to claim his inheritance by bumping off all the remaining members of the D’Ascoyne family – all eight of whom are famously played by Alec Guinness. Some meet a watery death, one famously plummets from a hot air balloon, one has his port poisoned. The subtleties come when Louis falls in love with one of the D’Ascoynes’ wives, and also his one kind employer also happens to be the last remaining member of the family.

Obviously a film made in 1949 is going to feel and sound dated, and allowances have to be made. It still manages to produce some marvelous moments, and the chemistry between Price and his two female lovers is genuinely sexy. Much has been made of Guinness’ playing of all eight parts, and it could have bordered on the spoof, but actually he reigns it in for much of the time and it’s all the better for it. Ultimately though the film does seem like a timepiece, an ‘important’ film rather than one which is still essential viewing.

Overall Verdict: Dated classic which creaks more than it should, but which still manages to raise a smile. Price’s performance is the real heart of the film, which looks marvelous in its restored version.

Reviewer: Mike Martin

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