Sunday, August 14, 2011
#179: Kind Hearts and Coronets
Great actors sometimes need only as much of a moment in a motion picture to leave a memorable imprint on our minds. Sometimes they get an entire canvas for themselves in a movie. It is akin to having a batsman on a first day flat batting track in Ahmedabad. And if that batsman turns out to someone like a Kallis or a Lara, they'll make you pay heavy. Now think an actor as accomplished as Sir Alec Guinness essaying eight different roles and you have a situation where if the script of this movie is tight enough, one can be assured of a most enjoyable experience. As the Kind Hearts and Coronets rightly turned out to be.
The Ealing Studio of England is one of the oldest studios of the world and since 1902 has been at the forefront of British filmmaking. Post World War II perhaps the need for audiences to levitate towards lighter subjects gave the studios the opportunity to delve in a series of production of comedies. Kind Hearts and Coronets released in 1949 was the fortuitous product of this phase. Directed by Robert Hamer, the movie is about Louis Manzinni (Dennis Price), a man who wants to go back to the splendors of the royal family of the D'Ascoynes, a family that banished his mother for marrying an ordinary Italian singer. On the death of his mother, when the D'Asocynes refuse to even bury her in the family tomb, Louis' desperation to be accepted as a part of royal lineage gives way to retribution.
Over the next few months, Louis carefully plans the murder of all those family members who would come in his path towards becoming a Duke. He gets himself close to the eldest Lord Ascoyne D'Ascoyne who is very impressed with Louis' work and keeps promoting him in the banking firm that they work for. John Dighton and Robert Hamer, the screenplay writers deftly place in a love triangle between Louis, his child hood girlfriend and Edith D'Ascoyne that makes this more than just a revenge drama. The comic elements in the Kind Hearts and Coronets are derived from the deadpan seriousness of the whole affair that at times border on the farcical. Yet as an audience one stays rooted to Louis' cause because of the empathy that the character generates with his backstory during the first act of the movie.
Alec Guinness plays all his characters, that include a lady, with such effortlessness that it is hard not to be amazed with the range of skills that go with it. Dennis Price's character arc traverses emotions of despair, animosity, love, jealousy and his composure and capability in handling these were as brilliant as they come. The narrative structure of the movie, and credit is again due to the the director-writer combination here, lends itself to a wonderful last two minutes that should rank as one of the best endings ever in cinema. Simply put, Kind Hearts and Coronets is a fabulous piece of cinema. Watch it before you die.