kind hearts and coronets

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alec guinness
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richard attenborough
stewart granger
cary grant
jack hawkins
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david niven
eric portman
richard todd
peter ustinov

isabelle adjani
ursula andress
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        kind hearts

kind hearts

k i n d   h e a r t s   &   c o r o n e t s  :   m a k i n g  ]

"A film not noticeably similar to any previously
made in the English language."

- Robert Hamer

making | cast | plot | ealing dvds | ealing videos
kind hearts
and coronets
charlie chaplin | alfred hitchcock | fritz lang | f.w. murnau
erich von stroheim | wim wenders | robert wiene

kind hearts


Directed by Robert Hamer, 1949

2016: Forever Ealing Book Reviewed, Photos & In Stock

  • prod co: Ealing
  • prod: Michael Balcon
  • assoc prod: Michael Relph

  • sc:
      Robert Hamer, John Dighton, from the novel Israel Rank by Roy Horniman

  • photo: Douglas Slocombe, Jeff Seaholme
  • sp eff: Sydney Pearson, Geoffrey Dickinson
  • ed: Peter Tanner
  • art dir: William Kellner

  • mus:
      Ernest Irving, extract from Mozart's Don Giovanni played by The Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ernest Irving

  • cost: Anthony Mendleson
  • sd: Stephen Dalby, John Mitchell
  • ass dir: Norman Priggen
  • r/t: 106 minutes


  • Dennis Price (Louis Mazzini)
  • Valerie Hobson (Edith d'Ascoyne)
  • Joan Greenwood (Sibella)
  • Alec Guinness
    (Ethelred; Duke of Chalfont; Lord Ascoyne d'Ascoyne; The Reverend Lord Henry d'Asccoyne; General Lord Rufus d'Ascoyne; Admiral Lord Horatio d'Ascoyne; Ascoyne d'Ascoyne; Henry d'Ascoyne; Lady Agatha d'Ascoyne)
  • Audrey Fildes (Mama)
  • Miles Malleson (hangman)
  • Clive Morton (prison governor)
  • John Penrose (Lionel)
  • Cecil Ramage (Crown Counsel)
  • Hugh Griffith (Lord High Steward)
  • John Salew (Mr Perkins)
  • Eric Messiter (Burgoyne)
  • Lyn Evans (farmer)
  • Barbara Leake (schoolmistress)
  • Peggy Ann Clifford (Maud)
  • Anne Valery (girl in the punt)
  • Arthur Lowe (reporter)

    kind hearts

    kind hearts and coronets

    Few films make effective reading when their words are divorced from their images. And if one is found that does, the tendency is immediately to assume that there must be somethng wrong with it. Certainly Kind Hearts and Coronets has often posed this kind of a problem: it allows such weight to the spoken word that it has often been thought of as literary and uncinematic. And yet, at this distance of time from its first appearance in 1949, it stands out as the least faded, most undubitably alive of all the British films of its era. And, perhaps because cinema criticism is now a lot less hidebound by simplistic theories of what is or is not 'cinematic' that it once was, it would probaly not occur to anyone seeing the film for the first time to query its 'summit meeting' of words and images or worry about how it could somehow be made to fit into a world-view shaped by neo-realism.

    The corollary of this is that today's audience would not realize how exceptional the film was in its time; but part of Robert Hamer's stated principle in making it was that it should be:

      'a film not noticeably similar to any previously made in the English language'.

    Hamer had been a film editor, then a writer, then - as one of Michael Balcon's bright young men at Ealing - a director, making his debut with an episode in the composite picture Dead of Night (1945). He had followed it with a couple of solo features, Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945), a period murder story, and It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), a downbeat study of working-class life which he also wrote; the elegance of the first and the social preceptiveness of the second retrospectively provide a hint of what was to come. No-one, however, could have guessed what Hamer was up to when he discovered and began to adapt the little-known Edwardian novel, Israel Rank - a rather self-consciously decadent piece written by Roy Horniman (a follower of Oscar Wilde) - having decided that it had the makings of a film comedy.

    In adapting it Hamer remained true to the period of the story and to the allegiance to Wilde. Otherwise, only the basic plot of the novel was retained: the plight of a young man whose mother has married beneath her and been cast out by her family, and his determination to get revenge and repair his spoilt fortunes by murdering his way through a whole family of unspeakable relatives on his way to a dukedom. In the novel this involves a lot of Nietzschean attidinizing on the part of the self-styled superman hero: in the film it is all distilled into an exquisitely subversive comedy of manners, decorated with a constant sparkle of verbal wit such as Wilde would not have disowned.

    But that is not all. The film's visual wit perfectly complements the verbal. If the tone is established primarily by the dialogue and by the ruthless Louis' voice-over commentary on the action, it is still true that the best effects are produced by a knowing counterpoint of word and image. A typical example of this is when Louis' tea-time conversation with his cousin's chilly wife (soon to be his) is accompanied by the gradual appearance of a column of smoke indicating that something nasty has happened to his cousin in the woodshed. Elsewhere Hamer's precise selection of what details to show us in the behaviour of his characters lets the audience know just how to read every move in this cool but by no means unemotional game.

    The performances are, of course, superb. Dennis Price as the dandyish, but under it all slightly demonic, Louis was never better, and neither were Joan Greenwood and Valerie Hobson, perfectly cast as the two contrasting women in his life. Alec Guinness' extraordinary feat, playing eight members of the d'Ascoyne family, has been much remarked on, but the most remarkable thing about it is virtually unnoticeable. So exactly is each of member of the family portrayed that, while seeing the film, the spectator is aware only of the diversity and believability, not of the one actor who achieves it. But, first and foremost, the film is the personal creation of Robert Hamer, as close to a genuine auteur filmas the British cinema has ever come.

    Though some of Hamer's later films were enjoyable - notably Father Brown (1954), which reunited him with Guinness and Greenwood - he never had another comparable chance to express his elegant, uncomfortable wit in the context of a generally conservative British cinema. A pity - but at least Kind Hearts and Coronets remains a masterpiece of its kind, and unique.

    kind hearts


    When the younger brother of the Duke of Chalfont runs off with a penniless Italian singer her family disowns her.

    She tells her son Louis (Dennis Price) about his grand forbears but, denied any aid from her family, he has to work in a draper's shop.

    Stung by the family's refusal to recognize kinship with his mother - even when she dies - he determines to get his own back and to impress his suburban girlfriend Sibella (Joan Greenwood) by disposing of all who stand between him and the family title.

    First, he murders his most obnoxious cousin (Alec Guinness) during a dirty weekend at Henley, and then blows up another cousin (Alec Guinness), an amateur photographer. A cleric uncle (Alec Guinness) is poisoned; a suffragette aunt (Alec Guinness) is shot down in her balloon; a soldier uncle (er, Alec Guinness) is booby-trapped while recounting his most famous campaign; and a sailor uncle (you guessed it: Alec Guinness) goes down with his ship after a collision at sea.

    This makes Louis heir apparent to the Chalfont title, and the accepted fiance of Edith (Valerie Hobson, the photographer cousin's widow).

    Just as Louis is achieving his goal by shooting the present duke - whereupon the last remaining uncle expires on hearing he has succeeded to the dukedom - Sibella's husband dies in suspicious circumstances and he is charged with the one murder he didn't do.

    Sibella agrees to get him acquitted if he will dispose of Edith and make her the next duchess. All goes according to plan, but there is still the problem of Louis' compromising memoirs which he had absent-mindedly left in hs prison cell on being freed...

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      making | cast | plot | ealing dvds | ealing videos
      kind hearts
      and coronets
      charlie chaplin | alfred hitchcock | fritz lang | f.w. murnau
      erich von stroheim | wim wenders | robert wiene

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