Director: Robert Hamer
Produced by: Michael Balcon and Michael Relph
Production Company: Ealing Studios
Distributed by: General Film Distributers
Screenplay: Robert Hamer and John Dighton
Adapted from the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal
by Roy Horniman
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Original Score: Ernest Irving
Edited by: Peter Tanner
It’s my all-time-favorite British movie. “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949), the most delicious concoction ever produced by Michael Balcon’s Ealing Studios. With exquisitely intelligent and stylish direction by Robert Hamer from a screenplay that he wrote with John Dighton (“The Man in the White Suit” and “Roman Holiday”). It flows like dark chocolate over a mouthwatering sundae.
Above all, it stars the deliciously urbane Dennis Price as a lowly draper’s assistant. Finding himself distantly in line to a dukedom and infuriated by this aristocratic family’s cruel treatment of his mother, he turns serial killer. In other words, he sets out to systematically murder everyone ahead of him in line to the seat of D’Ascoyne.
In addition, Alec Guinness has a ball playing all eight of the unfortunate D’Ascoynes. This includes Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne, a militant suffragette whom Louis shoots down from her hot air balloon while she is distributing leaflets.
Joan Greenwood and Valerie Hobson
However, it is Price who is the star of “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, in addition to his two magnificent leading ladies. We have the plum voiced Joan Greenwood as that little minx Sibella and Valerie Hobson, never better as the pure at heart Edith D’Ascoyne. She is the widow of one of Louis victims and, in addition, she is the person on whom Louis sets his sights on to marry.
However, one must not fail to mention the great Miles Matheson who has a few classic moments as the hangman . He cannot believe that he is going to hang a duke and wants to find out how he should behave in his presence.
And Douglas Slocombe’s stunning black and white cinematography, a visual peak for Ealing.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Both Robert Hamer and Dennis Price were alcoholics and both of their careers peaked with this movie.
Valerie Hobson found herself in a life imitating art scenario when she stood by her husband, the disgraced politician John Profumo, during the scandal of 1963.
Depending on the film’s cut, you may or may not get a brief glimpse of Guinness as a ninth D’Ascoyne, the 7th Duke of Chalfont, Etheired’s father, in brief flashback sequences.
Leeds Castle in Kent was used for Chalfont, the family home.
The film’s title comes from the antepenultimate stanza of the poem “Lady Clara Vere de Vere“, by Lord Alfred Tennyson, published in 1842:
“Howe’er it be, it seems to me, / ’Tis only noble to be good. / Kind hearts are more than coronets, / And simple faith than Norman blood,”
AlecGuinness as eight members of the D’Ascoyne family:
Ethelred D”Ascoyne , 8th Duke of Chalfont
The Reverend, Lord Henry D’Ascoyne
General, Lord Rufus D’Ascoyne
Admiral, Lord Horatio D’Ascoyne
Banker, Lord Ascoyne D’Ascoyne (Louis’ Employer)
Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne, Ethelred’s sister
Young Ascoyne D’Ascoyne
Young Henry D’Ascoyne