Kind Hearts & Coronets is often cited as the perfect Ealing Comedy but it’s also the most atypical. Director Robert Hamer, who co-wrote much of the script, expressed his intention to make a film “not noticeably similar to any other made in the English language” which “paid no regard to established … moral convention”. And he succeeded in spades.
Alec Guinness—an Ealing Studios old boy—plays all eight of the abominable D’Ascoynes with undisguised relish. However, it’s Dennis Price who steals the film. Putting in an under-appreciated performance as the louche Mazzini, Price conjours up the type of anti-hero which would give Machiavelli a run for his money. Amoral, callous, calculating, but strangely hard to hate. Partly because his victims are so desperately deserving of the fate which befalls them, and partly because he has all the best lines.[SPOILERS] In Ealing, the villains never get away with it, but Kind Hearts stretches that convention too. After a last minute reprieve, Mazzini is freed, leaving his memoirs, confessing all, in his jail cell. Like The Italian Job the ending is left deliberately vague. He might, just might, get away with it. Interestingly when it was released in the US, American audiences were much less happy with this sort of moral ambiguity and an extra scene, showing the prison warder reading Mazzini’s ‘confession’ was added.
70 years on, StudioCanal’s crisp 4k restoration is the prefect gift to mark the film’s anniversary and the lasting legacy of the Ealing Comedy.