Morally dubious yet perversely funny, this is one of the most outstanding black comedies produced by the Ealing Studios as one outsider with a royal lineage seeks to eliminate all that stand ahead of him in the line of succession.
Cast: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson, Joan Greenwood, Audrey Fildes
Plot: A distant poor relative of Duke D’Ascoyne plots to inherit the title by murdering the eight other heirs who stand ahead of him in the line of succession.
Awards: Won International Award – Best Production Design & Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice); Nom. for Best British Film (BAFTAs)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Murder Plotting; Royal Lineage
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
As far as movies produced by the Ealing Studios are concerned, Kind Hearts and Coronets has got to be one of their very best. A black comedy that pokes fun at royal lineage, the film famously features Alec Guinness playing not one, but eight (!) characters who are heirs to the title of Duke D’Ascoyne.
In Louis’ (Dennis Price) cold and calculated mind, however, they must all be eliminated so that he can become the Duke himself. He has a good reason though—his late mother who could have been Duchess was cast out by the royal family for marrying outside her class; in revenge for their banishment, Louis hopes to restore (as quickly as possible) his rightful status.
“It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms.”
It may be morally dubious, but Kind Hearts and Coronets effortlessly makes us feel at ease with the nefarious proceedings by being so gentlemanly and nonchalant about murder. It helps to be perversely funny too, with a fantastic script adapted from Roy Horniman’s most famous novel, ‘Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal’.
Beginning in a prison cell where Louis awaits his execution the next morning, he spends the entire night calmly writing about his murderous exploits, hoping it would explain things that have baffled investigators and the public.
Right up till the final scene, the film has tricks up its sleeves, and nothing is as straightforward and conclusive as it seems. An outstanding delight, especially if you love dark British comedies.