You might have actually been aware that Sir Alec Guinness is a Jedi (Star Wars' Obi-Wan Kenobi) but I guess you do not know he has been also able to spawn himself into eight persons simultaneously if you haven't seen Kind Hearts and Coronets. This is a great movie in many aspects and Sir Alec Guinness' multiple roles are only one of them. The film sports other notable performances too and in addition offers a captivating plot, subtle storytelling, masterful direction and brilliant execution. You cannot be sure what will be the outcome of the movie up to its very end and even then you could still wonder how to treat its irony. This is one of those films that make you question yourself whether black and white movies could be ever outdone.
Kind Hearts and Coronets tells the story of Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), a distant relative of the Duke of D'Ascoyne. Louis' mother has been banished from D'Ascoynes because of her marriage to an Italian opera singer so Louis has lived all of his life spurned from the noble family. When D'Ascoynes reject to bury his mother's body in the aristocratic family's tomb Louis plots to become the next Duke of D'Ascoyne. However, this task is not easy since there are eight other heirs who stand between him and the title of the Duke. When Louis' marriage proposal is declined by his love interest Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood) due to his poverty, the young man decides to bring his murderous plan to life. And the fun begins.
As mentioned above, one of the highlights in Kind Hearts and Coronets is Sir Alec Guinness' rare performance of 8 different persons. You might have guessed that these eight comprise the D'Ascoyne family and to make Guinness' achievement even more notable, they are not only males. All of the D'Ascoynes share similar external features, which is normal for relatives but at the same time they are distinctive enough in order to be taken for separate people. Additionally, Sir Alec Guinness manages to put a different personality in each of the characters he plays. Another (often overlooked) gem in the movie is the leading performance of Dennis Price who makes of Louis Mazzini a calm, determined and convincing villain and at the same time succeeds to win our sympathy. The two women (of course, there is more than one) around Louis, Sibella Holland and the recent widow Edith D'Ascoyne are portrayed very well by Joan Greenwood and Valerie Hobson, the former making us to believe that Sibella is an artful tempter and the latter successfully presenting Edith as a delicate and stylish lady.
The plot does not offer numerous twists until the movie's ending approaches but the film's beauty prior to this point is in its details and storytelling. The narrative is very tranquil as if the story is not about murders, death and immoral behaviour. There is plenty of (dark) humour, either subtle or not and many of the funny lines flow effortlessly along the lead character's narration: "The advent of twin sons to the Duke was a terrible blow. Fortunately, an epidemic of diphtheria restored the status quo almost immediately and even brought me a bonus in the shape of the Duchess." or "The upshot was that I was dismissed on the spot. I decided to repay him in kind by dismissing him with equal suddenness from this world."
The story is genuinely absorbing, once because it has a good premise and twice cause it's not clear what is going to happen until the end of the movie. The ending itself is superb and one could see the film just because of it. The whole execution of Kind Hearts and Coronets is almost flawless and it's a rarity to find a movie so balanced and complete as this. If you haven't had a chance to see the film until now, do yourself a favour and watch this classic soon. The movie has a full potential to catch you unprepared for its charm and your first viewing probably won't be your last.