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Kind Hearts and Coronets

January 19th, 2005 (11:25 pm)

To wit: it was good to see Kind Hearts and Coronets at the NFT on Monday night. I've never seen it on a cinema screen before; the print began as fairly ropey (a National Film and Television Archive print, complete with a British Board of Film Classification certificate from no later than the 1950s, classifying it 'A') but was near-pristine in the later reels. I first saw the film as a child, and had every sympathy with the murderous Louis Mazzini. The more times I see it as an adult, the more I see going on. Louis (who narrates the film in flashback) seeks to present himself in his younger days as an idealist only wishing to be restored to a station appropriate to his sensitive character, but at the same time his story is from the beginning that of an ambitious careerist, moving up the promotion ladder in a draper's in Clapham, and then in the West End, before the meeting with his cousin Ascoyne D'Ascoyne which sees Louis dismissed and, within a few days, Ascoyne dead. gervase_fen pointed out that Edith, presented as another representative of the aristocratic ideal in Louis's narration, is probably herself a social climber, and her advocacy of temperance and expressions of admiration for sensibility (often before she explains why she has set aside some moral scruple or other) as much a mask as Louis's pose as an aristocratic man of fashion. In his BFI Film Classics book on the film, Michael Newton points to Sibella as Louis's double - as the film says, they deserve each other. Yet Louis does not recognise - or chooses not to explain to us - that Edith may be of the same stamp as himself as Sibella, but more successful at working the social structure of Edwardian Britain.