Across the 1940s and ‘50s, Ealing Studios’ comedies earned them an important position in British cinema history. Among these was Kind Hearts and Coronets, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary. StudioCanal’s restoration sees 4K cinema distribution this month and can also be found on a new Blu-ray collector’s edition.
Dennis Price stars as Louis Mazzini, whose mother was disinherited by her noble family, the D’Ascoynes, for marrying someone ‘beneath’ her. Struggling to make ends meet after his mother’s death, Louis becomes set on claiming what he believes is rightfully his – the title of Duke of Chalfont. All he must do is murder the eight D’Ascoynes above him in the line of succession.
All eight, in what is the film’s most famous quirk, are played by the same actor, Alec Guinness. It’s more than a gimmick, as while every D'Ascoyne is snooty and horrible, Guinness gives them all their own particular kind of horridness, making it easy to buy into each one as an individual character while enhancing the film's portrayal of the insularity and arrogance of the upper classes.
Kind Hearts is a brutal skewering of the one percent, with Guinness’s performances making you root for Louis as he plots his ways to off them. That said, the middle classes don’t get off lightly either; Joan Greenwood’s Sibella, Louis’ love interest, goes from seeing him as beneath her to scheming to become his duchess. And, of course, the main character is a serial killer – while the film’s talking point is usually Guinness, it’s to the credit of the remarkable Price that it’s easy to be on the side of the almost psychopathically cold Louis. Or maybe we all just want to live out the revenge fantasy.
One of Ealing’s best, Kind Hearts and Coronets boasts glorious performances and a hilarious script, with Robert Hamer’s direction showing stunning attention to comedic detail. If you’ve never seen it, this high quality restoration is the perfect excuse to seek it out.
And if you’re a fan, the collector’s edition extras are a nice bonus, if nothing exemplary. There’s a commentary from Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw, filmmaker Terence Davies (oddly orgasmic as he declares every detail “gorgeous”) and Alec’s son Matthew Guinness (who speaks up once or twice to say “that’s my dad”). 45-minute featurette Once More With Ealing starts off with some fascinating background about Ealing Studios, becomes a little tedious as it turns into more people saying how much they like the film we all just watched, but does have the lovely moment of Paul King explaining how this masterpiece influenced another – Paddington 2.
There’s also an introduction from John Landis, the alternate US ending (spoiler: it’s not as good), short featurettes about Ealing and Dennis Price, and the usual bunch of stills; plus it comes packaged with booklet, art cards and poster, all, to quote Terence Davies, gorgeous.