Kind Hearts and Coronets

Robert Hamer, UK, 1949, 106 minutes

Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) sits in prison, awaiting his execution, and writing the story behind his imminent death. And so the tale unfolds - to avenge his mother, who was disowned by the aristocratic D'Ascoyne family, Louis proceeded to make certain that the family's fortune and title fell into his hands. The eight relatives that stood between himself and the Ealing dukedom started to die off with a little assistance from Louis.

The polite indifference with which Louis Mazzini - gentleman to the last - disposes of his somewhat tiresome relatives, in a manner akin to the way a person might collect stamps, is captured perfectly by Dennis Price. The use off flashback works particularly well, since it allows a voice-over by Louis Mazzini which adds to the dry, black humour and gives the film greater cohesiveness. But perhaps the outstanding performance comes from Alec Guinness, who plays the roles of all eight relatives. This was a feat which was to make him a household name, and establish him as one of the leading British film actors. It is a rare film indeed which manages to make cold-blooded murder appear amusing. That this film succeeds admirably is a measure of the brilliance of the portrayal of polite society Edwardian England, and the charm, wit and elegance with which this black comedy is made.

Review by Matthew Bull
Taken from EUFS Programme 1994-95