Kind Hearts and Coronets: Wikis


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Kind Hearts and Coronets
Directed by Robert Hamer
Produced by Michael Balcon
Michael Relph
Written by Screenplay:
Robert Hamer
John Dighton
Roy Horniman
Starring Dennis Price
Valerie Hobson
Joan Greenwood
Alec Guinness
Music by Ernest Irving
Cinematography Douglas Slocombe
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Release date(s) June 1949
Running time 106 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Kind Hearts and Coronets is a 1949 English black comedy directed by Robert Hamer. It was written by John Dighton and Hamer, and is loosely based on the novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman. The Kind Hearts and Coronets title derives from Tennyson's poem Lady Clara Vere de Vere (1842): "Kind hearts are more than coronets, And simple faith than Norman blood."

Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini. Eight members of the D'Ascoyne family precede him in line for a dukedom; Alec Guinness portrays all eight, including an active man in his early 20s, a feeble octogenarian, and a suffragette. Joan Greenwood, as a femme fatale, and Valerie Hobson play Louis' two romantic interests.

Kind Hearts and Coronets is regarded as one of the best Ealing Studios films, and is listed in Time magazine's top 100, and in the BFI Top 100 British films. In 2000, Total Film magazine readers voted Kind Hearts and Coronets as the 25th-greatest comedy film, and, in 2004, named it the seventh-greatest British film.



In Edwardian England, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is the son of a woman ostracised by her aristocratic family for eloping with an Italian opera singer. Upon her death, the D'Ascoynes deny her last wish: to be entombed in the family crypt. Louis plots to avenge this insult and to inherit the D'Ascoyne dukedom — but eight relatives stand in his way.

Louis determines to murder them, and kills six of them in inventive, blackly humorous, ways. Two others die without his assistance, and Louis become the tenth Duke of Chalfont. (The death of one person he does not kill, the Admiral, is based on a real incident, the sinking of HMS Victoria in 1893.)

Complications ensue when Louis is torn between two women: Sibella (Joan Greenwood), his earthy paramour, who is the wife of his childhood rival Lionel (John Penrose), and the refined Edith D'Ascoyne (Valerie Hobson), who is the widow of his second victim. He marries Edith. When Lionel goes bankrupt and kills himself, Sibella hides his suicide note. Louis is tried by his peers in the House of Lords, and is convicted of murdering someone he did not kill.

Awaiting execution, he writes his memoirs, describing all his murders in detail. At the last moment, however, Sibella "finds" the suicide note, and Louis is released. As he steps through the prison gate and greets a cheering crowd, two carriages await him: Edith's and Sibella's. Unable to choose between them, he quotes from The Beggar's Opera, "How happy could I be with either, Were t'other dear charmer away!" When a representative of Tit-Bits magazine approaches him and asks for the publication rights to his memoirs, Louis realizes he has left the incriminating manuscript in his prison cell. The original British version ends at this point, leaving it ambiguous whether Louis' guilt will be discovered.


American version

To satisfy the Hays Office Production Code, Kind Hearts and Coronets was censored for the American market.[1] Some ten seconds of footage was added to the ending, showing the manuscript of Louis' memoirs being discovered before he can retrieve them. (This ending is an extra product in the Region 1 Kind Hearts and Coronets Criterion Collection DVD.) The dialogue between Louis and Sibella was altered to downplay their adultery; derogatory lines about the Parson were deleted; and in the rhyme "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe", sailor replaced the word nigger. The result is a version that is six minutes shorter than the British original.


  • Dennis Price as Louis Mazzini and his father
  • Alec Guinness as Duke Ethelred D'Ascoyne, Lord Ascoyne D'Ascoyne (the Banker), Reverend Lord Henry D'Acoyne, General Lord Rufus D'Ascoyne, Admiral Lord Horatio D'Ascoyne, young Ascoyne D'Ascoyne (son of Lord Ascoyne D'Ascoyne), young Henry D'Ascoyne (photographer), Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne, and in a family ancestor's portrait. Originally, he was offered only four D'Ascoyne parts: "I read [the screenplay] on a beach in France, collapsed with laughter on the first page, and didn't even bother to get to the end of the script. I went straight back to the hotel and sent a telegram saying, ‘Why four parts? Why not eight!?' " [2]
  • Valerie Hobson as Edith
  • Joan Greenwood as Sibella
  • Audrey Fildes as Mama
  • Miles Malleson as the Hangman
  • Clive Morton as the Prison Governor
  • John Penrose as Lionel
  • Cecil Ramage as Crown Counsel
  • Hugh Griffith as the Lord High Steward in Louis' trial
  • Arthur Lowe as the magazine representative


Chalfont, the family home of the d'Ascoynes, is Leeds Castle in Kent, England.[3] The film's musical theme is Il mio tesoro ("My treasure"), from Don Giovanni, by Mozart. The collected correspondence between the novelists Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford record that Ealing studios employed them separately to write the screenplay; none of their contributions are in the final script.

Radio adaptation

BBC7 broadcast a radio version of Kind Hearts and Coronets, recorded in 1995, featuring Michael Kitchen as Mazzini and Harry Enfield as the D'Ascoyne family (augmented by Colonel Henry D'Ascoyne who was shown in a portrait in the movie). Haydn Gwynne played Edith D'Ascoyne, Lynsey Baxter played Sybella, and Michael Denison played the Crown Counsel. The original music was by Barrington Pheloung, and it also featured music from the film. The ending seems to adhere to the Hays Code ending in that a prison official finds, and reads, the memoirs.

Related works

The film is loosely based on Roy Horniman's 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal. This novel is rather obscure and for many years was not easy to obtain, but it has recently been re-published by Faber Finds.

According to one recent review by Simon Heffer, the novel is well-written, but is also darker and more problematic in its treatment of some issues than the film. The central character, Israel Rank, is part-Jewish rather than part-Italian. Heffer observes that, in the author's characterization of Rank, "... his ruthless using of people (notably women) and his greedy pursuit of position all seem to conform to the stereotype that the anti-semite has of the Jew."[4] His elimination of the relatives who stand between him and the dukedom is depicted as particularly ruthless and is not treated at all comically. He comes close to being executed for murdering a relative, but has a lucky escape and lives to enjoy the dukedom.[4]

The Heralds and Malice Aforethought are two works which have some plot similarities with Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Literary references

  • Louis's line on killing Lady Agatha — "I shot an arrow in the air, she fell to earth in Berkeley Square", parodies Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Arrow and the Song: "I shot an arrow in the air, it fell to earth I know not where".
  • In the early story, Louis paraphrases Samuel Johnson's quotation "When a man knows he is to be hanged the next morning, it concentrates the mind wonderfully" as "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates the mind wonderfully".
  • Louis's quip that he sent the "caviar to the general" is from Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2). In Hamlet "general" means the general public, not a military general.




  • The Great British Films, pp 131–133, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 080650661X

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Kind Hearts and Coronets is a 1949 film about an heir to a Dukedom who plots to murder those members of his estranged family who stand in his way, thereby avenging his mother's death and winning the heart of a young gentlewoman.

Directed by Robert Hamer. Written by Roy Horniman, Robert Hamer and John Dighton.
A hilarious study in the gentle art of murder.
Spoiler warning: Plot, ending, or solution details follow.


Louis Mazzini

  • [Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne has been killed while sailing a hot-air balloon over London.]
    I shot an arrow in the air; she fell to earth in Berkeley Square.
  • While I never admired Edith as much as when I was with Sibella, I never longed for Sibella as much as when I was with Edith.
  • The Reverend Lord Henry was not one of those newfangled parsons who carry the principles of their vocation uncomfortably into private life.
  • It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms.

The Parson

  • The Parson: I always say that my west window has all the exuberance of Chaucer without, happily, any of the concomitant crudities of his period.


Mr Elliot: Even my lamented master, the great Mr. Benny himself, never had the privilege of hanging a duke. What a finale to a lifetime in the public service!
Prison Governor: Finale?
Mr Elliot: Yes, I intend to retire. After using the silken rope, never again be content with hemp.

Sibella Holland: Oh, Louis! I don't want to marry Lionel!
Louis: Why not?
Sibella: He's so dull.
Louis: I must admit he exhibits the most extraordinary capacity for middle age that I've ever encountered in a young man of twenty-four.

Sibella: He says he wants to go to Europe to expand his mind.
Louis: He certainly has room to do so.


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