Director Robert Hamer’s fiendishly funny Kind Hearts and Coronets stands as one of Ealing Studios’ greatest triumphs, and one of the most wickedly black comedies ever made. Dennis Price is sublime as an embittered young commoner determined to avenge his mother’s unjust disinheritance by ascending to her family’s dukedom. Unfortunately, eight relatives, all played by the incomparable Alec Guinness, must be eliminated before he can do so.
Generally considered the most sublime of the Ealing comedies and a brilliant vehicle for the astonishing versatility of Alec Guiness – both of which it is – journalist and critic Simon Heffer also considers Kind Hearts and Coronets to be one of the most subversive films ever made in the British cinema, with an innovative, destructive temper that make later anti-Establishment films such as If and A Clockwork Orange seem derivative by comparison.
This 1949 film about a man who murders member after member of his extended family in order to inherit a dukedom is dark not only because its subject is mass murder, but also because of its subtle attack on almost every aspect of British social order – the legal system, the class system, the Church, the City. More unusually, Heffer also considers it as a perfect assault – often disguised by its comedy – on the shallow and narrow lower middle-class values and proprieties that predominated in Britain in the immediate post-war period.