Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), starring Dennis Price, Alec Guiness, Miles Malleson, Valerie Hobson, Joan Greenwood
Editorial review of Kind Hearts and Coronets courtesy of Amazon.com
Set in Victorian England, Robert Hamer’s 1949 masterpiece Kind Hearts and Coronets remains the most gracefully mordant of the Ealing comedies. Dennis Price plays Louis D’Ascoyne, the would-be Duke of Chalfont whose mother was spurned by her noble family for marrying an Italian singer for love. Louis resolves to avenge his mother by murdering the relatives ahead of him in line for the dukedom, all of whom are played by Alec Guinness. Guinness’s virtuoso performances have been justly celebrated, ranging from a youthful D’Ascoyne with a priggish wife to a brace of doomed uncles and one aunt. Miles Malleson is a splendid doggerel-spouting hangman, while Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood take advantage of unusually strong female roles. But the great joy of Kind Hearts and Coronets is the way in which its appallingly black subject matter (considered beyond the pale by many critics at the time) is conveyed in such elegantly ironic turns of phrase by Price’s narrator/antihero. Serial murder has never been conducted with such exquisite manners and discreet charm. –David Stubbs
Trivia for Kind Hearts and Coronets
The title refers to the following lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson‘s 1842 poem “Lady Clara Vere de Vere”: “Kind hearts are more than coronets, And simple faith than Norman blood.”
Initially Alec Guinness was only offered four of the roles; it was Guinness himself who insisted on playing all eight.
Robert Hamer and Alec Guinness got along extremely well during the shoot and formed a friendship that would last for many years to come. “Robert and I spoke the same language and laughed at the same things,” said Guinness in his 1985 memoir Blessings in Disguise. “He was finely-tuned, full of wicked glee, and was marvelous to actors – appreciative and encouraging.”
Alec Guinness took his extensive role very seriously, always showing up to work every day thoroughly professional and prepared. Playing eight different roles did come with its challenges, however. “Quick transformation from one character to another has a disturbing effect,” he told Collier’s magazine in 1952. “I had to ask myself from time to time: ‘Which one am I now?’ I had fearful visions of looking like one of the characters and thinking and speaking like one of the others. It would have been quite disastrous to have faced the cameras in the make-up of the suffragette and spoken like the admiral.”