I have always stated that my favourite film of all time is Its a Wonderful Life and this is very true. My favourite English film is Kind Hearts and Coronets starring Alec Guiness, Dennis Price, Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood. Alec Guiness is one of my favourite English actors alongside John Mills and Laurence Olivier. This film is a dark comedy telling the story of greed, revenge and mass murder which brings a smile to my face every time I watch it. Alec takes numerous roles as the wealthy D’Ascoyne family, even playing a woman for a short time. It’s a shame that many will only remember him for his part in Star Wars because he was such an accomplished actor and most probably one of the three best English actors of all time.
The story is simple and it starts off with the common story of someone marrying beneath them at a time when a person’s class was so important. A female member of the D’Ascoyne family married a poor Italian opera singer and the family disapproved of the marriage an shunned the newly wed couple. As time went on they had a son who came to realise his birth right and felt bitter about the way his mother had been treated and planned revenge. As and adult with both parents dead he decided to murder each member of the D’Ascoyne family one by one in order to gain his place as head of the house and gain what he believes is rightfully his.
Dennis Price is perfect as the cold and callous Louis Mancini going about his murderous ways as if he was ticking off a shopping list. I think the phrase cool as a cucumber was invented for this character as he killed one D’Ascoyne after the other. First he would worm his way into their lives as if by accident, but it was all part of a cunning plan. There was a minister, a general, a duke, a banker an admiral and a lady all played by Alec Guiness and all having their own little idiosyncrasies, perfectly portrayed by such a talented actor.
Class is a major part of the film and although the class system has merged and disappeared some what in recent times, back then there was a clear divide. This was clear when Louis was trying to find love, obviously aiming too high up the class system. Joan Greenwood played the female who was for a long time part of Louis’ lust and affections. This was a partnership doomed to fail as Sibella would never lower herself to marry someone so working class. This led her to lead an unhappy life with Lionel the bore who could offer money and standing, but little else. Louis had no time for him apart from showing him the greatest of contempt, a person he found to be weak and feeble. Sibella held a great deal of affection for Louis, but loved money a great deal more. Her reaction to his statement that he maybe duke one day was one of laughter and ridicule. Louis’ real love was the wife of one of the departed D’Ascoynes who again was far beyond his reach unless his plan worked. One of my favourite film quotes comes from this film and it gives you a great idea about Sibella and her character.
“I’d say that you were the perfect combination of imperfections. I’d say that your nose was just a little too short, your mouth just a little too wide. But yours was a face that a man could see in his dreams for the whole of his life. I’d say that you were vain, selfish, cruel, deceitful. I’d say that you were… Sibella”
Louis was in love with them both and this led him to increase his determination to become duke, but would he manage to carry out his plan? Would he get away with it? Which lady would he choose? This is a beautifully elegant film made in black and white which makes it even more dark. Look out for a young Arthur Lowe in a small cameo at the end.