Kind Hearts And Coronets Review

This is an extract from a review of the sixteen-disc Ealing Collection set. The full review will be posted shortly.

Despite it being produced in the same year, Kind Hearts And Coronets is a world away from Passport To Pimlico, its taking place in the upper echelons of society being far removed from the string vests and back alleys of Burgundy and its drip feed of deaths being quite unlike the post-war camaraderie of Pimlico. On the contrary, Kind Hearts And Coronets is a black-hearted tale of murder, revenge and of limitless ambition. It opens in jail, more specifically on a walk to the cell in which Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), the Duke of Chalfont, awaits his hanging on the charge of murder. Greeted by the officials in the prison, Mazzini bids them farewell until the morning and returns to his cell to write his memoirs. Putting quill to paper, he begins his story with his being born to an Italian opera singer and a member of the noble d'Ascoyne family. However, his mother, for bringing shame on the family name, is cast out. All her subsequent claims on d'Ascoyne family wealth is refused and in spite of the love and the best efforts of her only child, she dies in poverty. in Mazzini's heart is born a desire for vengeance and in his sights are the eight remaining members of the d'Ascoyne family, Ascoyne d'Ascoyne, Admiral d'Ascoyne, Duke of Chalfont, Lady Agatha d'Ascoyne, Lord d'Ascoyne, Gen. d'Ascoyne, Henry d'Ascoyne and Canon d'Ascoyne (Alec Guinness, times eight).

Kind Hearts And Coronets mourns any good news in the d'Ascoyne and wickedly celebrates the passing of any of its members. A typical moment of black humour comes as Mazzini gazes mournfully upon the d'Ascoyne family tree and passes by a newspaper, saying, "Sometimes the death column brought good news...sometimes the births column brought bad. The advent of twin sons to the Duke was a terrible blow. Fortunately, an epidemic of diphtheria restored the status quo almost immediately and even brought me a bonus in the shape of the Duchess." He gladly crosses off not only the line that would have linked the twins to their father and mother but also places a thick black X over the name of the Duchess. Driving him on in his desire to kill is the climbing of the social ladder in a bid to win the heart of the beautiful but awfully shallow Sibella (Joan Greenwood). Rejecting the advances of the lowly and very poor Mazzini, Sibella marries the upwardly mobile and very wealthy Lionel. But as Mazzini nears his prize, Sibella comes to regret her marriage, even to saying of Lionel that, "He's so dull!" and agreeing with Mazzini's, "I must admit, he exhibits the most extraordinary capacity for middle age that I've ever encountered in a young man of twenty-four."

Rightly famous for Alec Guinness' portrayal of eight members of the d'Ascoyne, Kind Hearts And Coronets is a deliciously black comedy that hangs a tale of murder, deceit and ambition over the enjoyably absurd playing of the entire d'Ascoyne family by one man. There are few moments of optical trickery, bar six members of the d'Ascoyne family appearing together at a family funeral, but instead Kind Hearts And Coronets revels in slapstick, black humour and the teasing out of the characters in the piece, much better realised than in a typical comedy. Principally, what Alec Guinness understands is that the death of Admiral d'Ascoyne saluting as his ship goes down wouldn't be as funny as it is without an understanding of how pompous the d'Ascoyne family is. If there's a note of sadness in the death of Ascoyne d'Ascoyne by a stroke, it is only so on realising that he's actually been rather decent to Louis Mazzini. And in spite of his explosive exiting of the film, Henry d'Ascoyne is rather a decent soul whose sudden disappearance is best explained by a sneaky drink in his garden shed and the inappropriate labelling of dangerous chemicals.

But on this sits a quite brilliant performance by Dennis Price as the droll Louis Mazzini, drawn between his desire for the shallow Sibella and his love of the more delicate Edith d'Ascoyne (Valerie Hobson). Much as the films treads along this line, it's Dennis Price that carries it, his deadpan acting and his quietly humorous voiceover being the making of this wonderful comedy. Each sentence in the writing of the film carries a poison that is barely noticeable in the gentle manner in which it is spoken. Indeed, so it is with the entire film, which is, were one only to offer it a cursory glance, a rather genteel picture but which is also wickedly funny. So funny, in fact, that in returning to the sentiments in the opening of this piece of writing, 'tis a wonder that I waited as long as I did. I can only recommend that if you felt the same, now or sometime soon is a perfect opportunity to catch up with the utter marvel of Kind Hearts And Coronets.


When reviewing Optimum's two-disc release of Whisky Galore!, I wrote, "[it] is a glorious-looking film on this DVD, with an almost perfect transfer from Optimum. Noise is almost non-existent and the contrast in the picture is simply beautiful, with a very complementary sharpness to the image. It's a DVD like this that make you wonder if the move to colour was an altogether wise idea so well does the story, production and look of the film work in combination with one another." That's not strictly the case with these six discs although the very last statement is confirmed given how the five black-and-white films supplied look a good deal better than the colour The Ladykillers.

However, they don't look at all bad. Kind Hearts And Coronets probably looks the best and, given that I would imagine that Optimum have used the transfer of Whisky Galore from their earlier release, it will look equally good. However, Passport To Pimlico is disappointingly soft, perhaps in an attempt to disguise the condition of the print but which leaves it looking much less impressive than any of the other films in the set. Then again, none of the films have been restored particularly thoroughly with all of them, even Kind Hearts And Coronets, showing some obvious print damage. It's also worth saying, not that I mind though, that there's a fair amount of noise in the prints used, although it does look more as though it was present in the original prints than was generated through the transfer.

None of them have been gifted with the kind of transfer that Warner Brothers, for example, carry out with ease but they could have looked much, much worse. Except, that is, for The Ladykillers, which comes along looking like 'before' presentation in one of Warner's features on the restoration work that they carry out on the movies in their archives. With the colours not quite matching, objects have a soft halo about them and though the colours are perhaps too rich to look anything like real life, they do tend to look quite unbelievable. The effect is akin, though obviously not quite as extreme, to watching a 3D film without the glasses, with it looking much like the old release of The Wizard Of Oz than the restored two- or three-disc version. Though still watchable, it could have been so much better.

Given the age of each film, it won't be a surprise to learn that each film comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio track, all of which aren't bad but do feature the occasional pop, click and bit of hissing. However, as one who doesn't object to the odd fault such as those, I thought them fine. In particular, there's a warmth about them, particularly Dead Of Night and Kind Hearts And Coronets, that's quite pleasing. The major oversight, given that these are Optimum releases, is that they do not come with subtitles.


Kind Hearts And Coronets only offers a Trailer (2m51s).

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 03:55:46

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