Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) – Review

Robert Hamer’s“Kind Hearts and Coronets” is a twisted comedy that’s coveted in darkness yet remains utterly delightful and intriguingly farcical. Set in old (but not ‘ye olde’) England. Our storyteller/main character is Louis, a hilariously morbid and charmingly sociopathic devil. Hamer keeps us laughing constantly, especially in moments we ought not laugh. Louis’ macabre sense of humour and calmness allows us to laugh at the constant backstabbing, ridiculous murders and callous adultery. It wouldn’t take much for Kind Hearts’ premise to feel numbingly pantomime or cartoonish. But through a grounded sense of self awareness it manages to feel more like satire with a hint of clowning around (i.e. Alec Guinness playing eight roles, from sailor to suffragette.)

Best part is, Kind Hearts and Coronets has some really clever little moments in it. Nothing cinematically ground-breaking, but a few moments here and there are pleasingly intuitive on the storytelling level. There’s a moment where Loius tells us how he’s never seen the D’Ascoyne castle except through his mother’s painting. As he does this the castle is shown in a static shot. Which makes perfect sense, on a visual level. The story is his own, we are witness to his story. So when the first shot is a picturesque shot of the castle, it reaffirms the films subjectivity. We see what Louis shows us. Then it transitions into the same shot but with Louis walking towards the castle. He has now seen it, and therefore we can too. It doesn’t make a huge difference to the film, it’s just nice to see a film-maker consider how the dialogue and visuals collaborate.

I loved so many of these little moments. They’re fascinating. When we’re introduced to Louis I noticed a power play through a potential misstep. We’re introduced to the hangman, who I thought was the protagonist. We follow him to a guard outside a cell. Then the dialogue shifts to ‘the cell prisoner’. I didn’t connect the prisoner to the protagonist role. We see, through POV, into the keyhole. The prisoner inside. Had this been it, there would’ve been nothing connecting him as the main character until his story began. Hamer cuts in closer, we’re in the cell, watching him. This extra shot took the story from being about the hangman watching the prisoner to us, the audience, watching the prisoner. Shortly after, he begins to tell us his story.

Once in a while I find a film like this, one that isn’t intended to be received as a statement, nor does it want to be recognised as fine art. And it isn’t exactly pandering to any particular audience. It’s just a film that exists to be enjoyed by those that happen to enjoy it. I forget, or better yet I am to scarcely reminded that films are too much fun to keep bogged down in the pretentiousness of cinema. When I started watching films, a film I loved was The Italian Job. The 2003 Italian Job. And to be honest, reflecting on my personal opinion of it now, I am sure my taste has gotten better. But I want that fun again. Without the ulterior motives. To simply enjoy a film for what it is. I’d be happier if I didn’t have to dodge all the political agendas for me to get a little entertainment from my entertainment.

I love social commentary, and films that have big, deep meanings, but I also recognise that these things have their time and place; sometimes sometimes is often enough.

Thank you Robert Hamer.

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