Kind Hearts and Coronets

Directed by Robert Hamer
Written by Robert Hamer and John Dighton

Kind hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith more than Norman blood...~Tennyson, Lady Clara Vere deVere

Kind Hearts and Coronets is a black comedy in the best of the British Ealing Studios tradition and the perfect vehicle for the considerable talents of Dennis Price and Alec Guiness. Regarded as a cinema classic, Kind Hearts in listed in the British Film Institute's top 100 films.

The Plot
In Edwardian England, Louis Mazzini(Dennis Price) is a sharp, dandified young man with a powerful sense of entitlement.  The son of an Italian opera singer but brought up in modest circumstances by his widowed mother, the young Louis was indoctrinated with tales of his mother's rich and aristocratic family lineage - a family that shunned her when she married beneath her. It's a seed of resentment that grows within the breast of  Mazzini and is intensified when, on her deathbed, his mother's request to be buried in the family vault is rejected by the noble D'Ascoynes (all 8 of whom are played by Alec Guiness).

Alec Guiness in one of his many guises...this time as Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne, a prominent suffragette.

Outraged, Louis Mazzini charts the D'Ascoyne family births and deaths closely - rejoicing when a death occurs and lamenting at the birth of twins to the Duke, though the lament is followed by relief when a bout of diptheria knocks the twins and a few more D'Ascoynes off the family tree. Working in a men's haberdashery, by chance Louis finds himself serving a particularly insufferable D'Ascoyne one afternoon, an encounter that results in the loss of his job.  Outrage turns to resolve, when Louis decides to remove those D'Ascoynes that stand between him and the Dukedom of Chalfont, which he now considers his rightful inheritance and the only way to put right the terrible injustice served upon his mother by her aristocratic relatives.

Hilarity ensues as Mazzini plots (and succeeds) to knock off the clueless D'Ascoynes one by one - Ascoyne D'Ascoyne, (son of the current Duke), Henry D'Ascoyne, Reverend Lord Henry D'Ascoyne, Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne, General Lord Rufus D'Ascoyne and Ethelred D'Ascoyne, 8th Duke of Chalfont.  Fortuitously two die naturally, before Mazzini's plans have a chance to be realised - Admiral Lord Horatio D'Ascoyne and banker, Lord Ascoyne D'Ascoyne.

Complications occur when Mazzini's childhood sweetheart Sybella (Joan Greenwood) marries a rival for money and Louis, while still maintaining feelings for Sybella,  falls for the elegant widow of one of his victims - amiable photographer Henry D'Ascoyne. Although Sybella and Louis continue to meet in his rooms, jealousy rears its ugly head and when the former's banker husband suicides as the result of pecuniary tragedy, Sybella hides the suicide note, framing Mazzini for the death. Thus, in a wonderful piece of irony, Louis Mazzini finds himself enclosed in a prison cell for the one murder he did not commit. There, he proceeds to write his memoirs...

Fetching widow Edith D'Ascoyne( Valerie Hobson) and Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price)
Both Price and Guiness are superb in the film, amply bolstered by the supporting cast.  Price's clipped, upper class accent and polished manners make him a smoothly appropriate natural 'aristocrat" while Guiness has an actor's field day, posturing in the many D'Ascoyne guises. This is a flawless comedy,  expertly directed, which pokes fun at the absurd pretensions of the British aristocracy as well as the envy of the aspirational middle-class.