Director: Robert Hamer
Writers: Robert Hamer and John Dighton, based on the novel by Roy Horniman
Principal cast: Alec Guinness, Dennis Price, Valerie Hobson, Hugh Griffith and Joan Greenwood
Release date: 19th August 2011.
Shunned by the D’Ascoyne dynasty due to the scandalous marriage between his mother and a foreign opera singer, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is forced into a life of near poverty before setting out to claim what he believes to be his rightful position as the future Duke D’Ascoyne.
Plotting a dark and bloody revenge on the family who disowned his mother, Louis firstly interweaves himself with the gentry before proceeding to murder all eight relatives (each portrayed by Alec Guinness) who stand the way of his succession.
Rightly considered a masterpiece of British cinema, Hamer’s darkly sophicated and slightly ghoulish comedy revolving around the manners and snobbery of both Victorian and Edwardian society receives a welcome reissue on the big screen.
For Alec Guinness, the film is one of several gems from his Ealing era, which saw the actor invent some of the most memorable characters ever put on screen and included creations such as the shy banker turned thief in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), the murderously deviant criminal mastermind featured in the Ladykillers (1955) and the flawed scientific genius attempting to change the course of industry in the satirical comedy The Man in the White Suit (1951).
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) is quite possibly the best of the lot as Guinness again disappears into character, albeit eight times, to portray a dynastic line that mainly consists of the senile, indifferent, arrogant and foolish whilst even a female relative (Guinness in drag) is not immune from the vengeful scheming of Dennis Price.
Each character is fully realised and given depth whilst it is almost shamefully questionable to ask yourself whether most of the ghastly rogues that make up the D’Ascoyne clan actually do deserve the fate that befalls them.
Dennis Price, perhaps like his namesake Vincent Price, manages to add a slightly dark and macabre edge to his black sheep and there’s something slightly immoral about a murderer potentially romancing the widow (Valerie Hobson) of one of his victims.
Joan Greenwood (who would latter star with Guinness in The Man in the White Suit) shines in support as Louis’ childhood love and, not unlike the rather dapper murderer, is endowed with the same scheming virtues.
Elsewhere you may wish to read into the comedy a commentary on the class system but at heart the film simply remains a wonderfully dark and sophisticated romp, which along with its cleverly staged final act remains the high point of Ealing’s illustrious output.
It’s safe to say that they don’t make them like this anymore.
The jewel in the crown of all the Ealing comedies and quite possibly a contender for one of the best British movies of all time and fully deserves a welcome reissue on the big screen.