executed, very funny and
ahead of its time, the 1949 black
comedy Kind Hearts And Coronets tells the story of a man whose mother
was wronged by her aristocratic family
and whose subsequent revenge has
VOTED IN 2000 BY THE READERS OF Total Film Magazine as "the
25th greatest comedy of all time", Kind Hearts And Coronets was
adapted from an obscure Edwardian book by Roy Horniman entitled Israel Rank:
The Autobiography Of A Criminal.
Kind Hearts And Coronets is said to be the most perfect of all the Golden
Age Ealing comedies. It famously features Alec Guinness in eight different roles
as the unsuspecting members of the aristocratic D'Ascoyne family, who are about
to be systematically despatched by the mercenary Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price).
Mazzini means to inherit the Dukedom and exact his revenge on the family who
wronged one of their own his mother (Audrey Fildes).
A D'Ascoyne by birth, Louis Mazzini's mother ran away with an opera singer and
was ostracised by her family. When her dying wish to be buried in the family
crypt is refused, Louis vows to get even. As he ascends the social ranks, he
is torn between his obsessive love for the now-married childhood sweetheart,
and equally devilish Sibella (the wonderful Joan Greenwood) and the saintly
wife of one of his victims, Edith D'Ascoyne (Valerie Hobson, who slips agreeably
As Mazzini disposes of his relatives one by one, he moves ever closer to the
heritage he considers rightfully his the title of Tenth Duke of Chalfont
and living at Chalfont, the family seat of the D'Ascoynes actually the
magical Leeds Castle in Kent.
The murders are carried out very cleverly and chance puts the victims perfectly
in his way but, ironically, Mazzini is arrested for a murder he did not commit.
While his life hangs in the balance, he takes time to reflect on the wrong-doing
that is his alone. A big mistake!
Originally Alec Guinness was offered only four parts but on reading the script,
which he found hilarious, he suggested that figure be increased to eight parts
and the result is brilliant. He plays with equal verve: The Duke, The Banker,
The Parson, The General, The Admiral, Young D'Ascoyne; Young Henry; and Lady
Definitely not to be overlooked is Dennis Price with his stunning performance
as the ambitious and vengeful Louis somewhat overshadowed over time by
Guinness. Mazzini eliminates the eight relatives standing between himself and
the Dukedom with a coolly detached relish that gives Price a chance to shine.
The main character in the original 1907 book from which the film was taken,
Israel Rank: The Autobiography Of A Criminal, was Jewish and convicted
of killing the last of his victims. In the screenplay for Kind Hearts And
Coronets a new victim was introduced who wasn't actually killed by Mazzini.
The film features stunning and inventive cinematography by Douglas Slocombe,
and a groundbreaking first-person narrative that, legend has it, inspired Scorsese
to make use of the same device in Goodfellas. The gorgeous music is Il
mio tresoro (My Treasure) from Don Giovanni by Mozart. Kind Hearts
And Coronets has been digitally restored and was released in cinemas on
19 August 2011.
Declared by astute critic Philip Kemp to be "light, witty and entertaining",
Kind Hearts And Coronets was filmed in 1949 and has been described as
the "quintessential British comedy". The film is as delightful today as ever;
a frightfully funny black comedy with a compelling story acted out by the perfect
Kind Hearts And Coronets also features: Miles Malleson as Mr Elliott; Clive
Morton as Prison Governor/Colonel; Cecil Ramage as Crown Counsel; and John Penrose
as Lionel Holland.
The film was Written by Robert Hamer & John Dighton; Based on a novel by Roy
Horniman; Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe; Produced by Michael Balcon; and
Directed by Robert Hamer. The Philharmonia Orchestra is conducted by Ernest
The beautifully restored 1949 black comedy Kind Hearts And Coronets is
released on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Optimum Releasing, on 5 September 2011.
Certificate: U | Total Running Time: 80 Minutes Approximately | B&W PAL | Catalogue
No: OPTD1792 | RRP: £15.99. Blu-ray Catalogue No: OPTBD1792 | RRP: £19.99.
Audio Commentary with Peter Bradshaw, Terence Davies and Matthew Guinness |
John Landis Introduction | Dennis Price: Those British Faces | BBC Radio 3 Essay
| Alternative American Ending | Restoration Comparison | Behind The Scenes |
Stills Gallery | Excerpt from BECTU Interview with Douglas Slocombe | Trailer.
"Kind Hearts And Coronets… as delightful today as ever; a frightfully
funny black comedy with a compelling story acted out by the perfect cast"
Maggie Woods, MotorBar