BFI Classics: Kind Hearts And Coronets

Author: Michael Newton

Ealing studios have a legendary status in the history of British film and Kind Hearts and Coronets may just be the best film they ever produced. The BFI classic book by Michael Newton brings much deserved attention to one British film that is undoubtedly a masterpiece.

The book is relatively short at only seventy pages and reads like a detailed essay on the film and various histories and facts about those involved.  The early part deals with a history of Ealing head of production Michael Balcon and the director of Kind Hearts Robert Hamer. The book gives more attention to Hamer pointing to his considerable output in terms of its quality given that his alcoholism stopped him from being prolific. The book details the battle Hamer had with Balcon in terms of the film’s content especially in terms of violence and sexuality. Hamer had previously attempted to screen a man and a woman in the same bed on his previous projects and wanted to do the same again this time. Balcon was less enthusiastic and wanted the film toned down in every way as to not offend the censor. Hamer desperately wanted to include Joan Greenwood in the cast as he found her sexual nature on screen to be something to wonder at. Having propositioned her once she told the most disgraceful anecdote that you will have to read the book to uncover. 

The second half of the book gives a comprehensive reading of the film itself both in terms of its narrative and the many roles played by Alec Guiness. Naturally much attention had always been given to Guiness given the eight parts he played depicting the entire D’Ascoyne family. Newton though draws just as much attention to the amazing supporting cast that included the sexy Greenwood, the wonderfully disturbing Dennis Price and Valarie Hobson. Hobson’s part had come in for less than stellar reviews upon original release with certain writers finding her dull in the role of Edith. But Newton argues that this dullness is the genius of her performance as she is there to provide the total opposite to the sexual firebrand played by Greenwood.

Michael Newton’s book is a wondrous read for anyone who is a massive fan of this film as it perfectly combines analysis with facts and history. The writing is always engaging without being too academic in its approach. The analysis section of the book is fabulous as Newton delves into the many subtle undertones the film has from the question of class to sexuality. The book is never boring but also allows the reader the joy, whilst also providing a great deal of information.

Michael Newton has done a magnificent job on this book simply expanding on one of the greatest films ever made in Britain. Having been a massive fan of the Kind Hearts and Coronets since I first saw it years ago this book simply added to my joy and actually made me want to watch the film again as soon as possible. Anyone coming to this fresh for the first time would surely find the book fascinating for different reasons and without a doubt would seek out the film afterwards.

Possibly the best BFI classic book I have read to date as it provides a perfect blend of trivia and analysis that kept me fully engaged throughout. Kind Hearts and Coronets may just be the greatest British comedy of all time and this book is a delightful companion piece that is well worth anyone’s time.

Aled Jones

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