Kind Hearts and Coronets

This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review.

Despite living in modest conditions, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is in line to receive the title of Duke of Chalfont, with the only problems being the many and varied members of his mother’s family, the D’Ascoynes (Alex Guinness), currently living and either holding the position or being further up the chain of succession than Louis. After the family denies his disinherited mother’s dying wish of being buried in the family cemetery, Louis sets out a mission to prune the D’Ascoyne family tree until he sits at the top with the title of Duke, hoping that will not only make amends for how his mother (Audrey Fildes) was treated, but will also win Louis the heart of his childhood crush Sibella (Joan Greenwood).
Kind Hearts and Coronets Price Greenwood
If Kind Hearts and Coronets is known for one thing, it’s that Alec Guinness played not just one member of the increasingly endangered D’Ascoyne clan, but the entire brood; eight separate characters. Some have considerably more time spent with them than others, but even those with just a few moments of screen time have individual mannerisms, speech patterns and everything else that makes a memorable character. Guinness has long been a versatile character actor, but even still seeing him here as a frail, doddery old reverend, a passionate, forthright revolutionary, a buttoned up banker and a stubborn, buffoonish admiral, at one point all in the same scene, is nothing short of delightful. It’s just a shame that all the captivating characters he portrays are, by the very nature of the film, regrettably not destined to survive until the closing credits.
Kind Hearts and Coronets Guinness Price
Elsewhere the rest of the cast all perform well, just in a less showy manner. Price retains a dash of wry sarcasm in his narration – the story is told as a memoir he is writing from jail the night before his execution – relaying in an almost disinterested monotone some otherwise ghastly events; never has the death of a young mother and her newborn children been quite so callously yet hysterically described. Mazzini’s love interests, played by Joan Greenwood and Valerie Hobson, are also great additions to the cast, one a gold-digging seductress and the other a more refined but standoffish lady, played against one another for Mazzini’s gains, and in some fabulous costumes while they’re at it. Also look out for a small role for Dad’s Army star Arthur Lowe, just before the credits.
Kind Hearts and Coronets Guinness
As with pretty much any piece of art ever made in England, class is a huge part of the story, and watching this in 2019 feels just as relevant as it may have 70 years ago. We still live in a time of the haves and the have-nots, and Louis’ initial plight to dethrone the aristocracy is a motive that’s very easy to support, even if his methods are less than condonable. The darkly comedic tone and often extraordinary means of disposal also make the multiple murders more palatable, but as Louis’ intentions evolve from vengeance to opportunistic greed it becomes harder to root for his victory. However difficult it may become to revel in the successes of the film’s protagonist, it’s never difficult to enjoy the film overall. This is a wonderfully written and performed comedy that may be a little slow or light on audible guffaws for more modern viewers, but if given the proper patience and attention there’s a great deal here to savour.

Choose Film 9/10

Blind Spot: Lawrence of Arabia

In the First World War, British Lt. T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is selected to assess the situation of Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness), who is having issues with the Turks. Going against the wishes of his superior officer, Lawrence catches the attention of the Prince, and advises a plan to attack Aqaba, a strategically positioned shipping port, by land, something deemed impossible due to the treacherous desert that must be crossed to do so. Even so, Lawrence and 50 men set out to do just that.
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The Bridge on the River Kwai

During World War 2, a squadron of British soldiers are ordered to surrender to the Japanese, and are taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in Thailand. There, they are instructed to assist in the building of a bridge (over the river Kwai), and every soldier must help, regardless of rank. The Geneva convention clearly states that officers are exempt from such duties, s when they are forced to work alongside the rest of the men, the officers are thrown into containment. Meanwhile, a small group of men outside of the camp are planning to make their way through the jungle to destroy the bridge.
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Doctor Zhivago

One of those Sunday afternoon sweeping epics that never seems to be off the TV schedule but before the List I’d never seen before (see also The Sound of Music, Gone With the Wind, The Ten Commandments), Doctor Zhivago was a bit of a disappointment.
For starters, it’s well over 3 hours long, but very little of that mammoth runtime left any kind of impression. Other than some striking imagery – a splash of blood in freshly fallen snow, a burst of yellow sunflowers against a dull, beige hallway – and a few admittedly impressive set pieces, there’s very little from this film that’s been committed to my memory banks.

Given there’s so much time to handle, the characters don’t receive much characterisation. This is a real shame, particularly for Omar Sharif as the titular medical man, who gives an engaging a bright-eyes performance, but of a character I still know very little about. His Sharif is born into a wealthy family in Russia, a little before the Bolshevik Revolution, and the film tells of his many and varied troubles throughout his, and Russia’s, history. On many occasions the history overshadows his life, as well it should, but the focus of the film is instead on him and his loves, for his childhood sweetheart Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin), whom he marries, is forcibly separated from Zhivago, forming a love triangle when he works closely with Julie Christie’s Lara.
At times the film reminded me of – whisper it – Pearl Harbour, particularly when I was asked to try and forget about the major historical event taking place in the background of a scene, and instead focus on the trivialities of the relationships of the leads, but just like Michael Bay’s explosion-fest, the grand scale of the set pieces was very impressive. Be it the hundreds of singing extras at a rally that becomes a battleground against an army of sword-wielding Cossacks, or the miles-long trudge Zhivago sets out on to return home through the snow, there is little shortage of spectacle.
Look out for Klaus Kinski on a train, and listen as your cries for more Alec Guinness – as Zhivago’s brother Yevgraf – go unheard. Whilst the film is certainly at times impressive, especially for its time, today it doesn’t really hold up, though it is certainly better than Pearl Harbour.
Choose life 6/10

Great Expectations

Dickens is my favourite writer of whose work I’ve read very little, and remember even less. I’m going to put that down to his being the West Wing character Sam Seaborn’s favourite writer, and because what I can remember is exquisite. I’m attempting to correct this literary oversight by reading the complete works of Dickens, however I’ve had David Copperfield sat in my bookcase for a few months now and have yet to even slide the book from its old fashioned cardboard sleeve and leaf through the hair’s breadth pages. This is not for want of trying, it just seems that another book will jump out at me sooner, or an issue of Empire will be posted through my door (I’ve recently ended my subscription to Total Film for this very reason, for two film magazines and my girlfriends insistence that I subscribe to Esquire leaves precious little time for reading anything else before the next month’s batch comes through the letterbox). If anything, Great Expectations has inspired me to pursue my Dickensian endeavours ever further, with its rich characters, superb storytelling and above all marvellous dialogue, taken directly from the pages written 150 years ago.
The first Dickens adaptation of director David Lean, followed by Oliver Twist 2 years later, bizarrely absent from the list, the film does have its flaws. A 38 year old John Mills was far too old to portrayal the youthful 20-year old Philip ‘Pip’ Pirrip, with the wrinkles in his forehead too far engrained to be concealed, and Alec Guinness, as his roommate Mr. Pocket, always looked better fighting with a light sabre than with a boxing gloves. Other than this, Lean directed wisely by remaining true to the book, a tactic that would make this a must see if directed by anyone.
Choose film 8/10