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

Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein

Although at times laughable now, back in 1931 James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic horror may well have been truly terrifying. Everybody knows the story; a mad scientist and his hunchbacked assistant rob some graves and, with the aid of a handy lightning bolt, create life in a giant, shambling monster, who eventually escapes his castle prison and is hunted down by a screaming mob with pitchforks and torches. This sense of inevitability is what lets the film down, and the limited effects available 70 years ago makes the film pale in comparison to however you can picture it in your imagination. Boris Karloff (replaced with a large ‘?’ in the opening credits for maximum levels of mystery) is brilliant as the monster, displaying childlike innocence in a giant, rigid, wordless performance that sees him throwing a young girl into a river to see if she’ll float, yet remains the victim in this tale.
The sequel picks up at the exact end of the first film, but is not encumbered by knowledge of the plot, or at least not for me, as all I knew was that at some point a female monster was created with a big black Marge Simpson hairdo with a white streak through it. The film uses a nice reminding device – the story is being told by original author Mary Shelley to her husband ad Lord Byron – which although takes you out of the film, adequately reminds of the climax of the previous picture. There are some cringe worthy scenes, most notably a blind man teaching the monster how to speak reminiscent of the worst scene of Terminator 2, with John Connor teaching Arnie how to be cool. The bizarre scene where Dr. Frankenstein’s former mentor Dr. Pretorius reveals the miniature people he has created in jars, including a king, a queen and a mermaid, is just insane, and Pretorius himself is a perfect combination of Doc Brown and Grand Moff Tarkin.
Frankenstein: Choose life 5/10
Bride of Frankenstein: Choose life 4/10

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