A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this story revolves around murder and relies heavily on dialogue. Adultery is also a discreet, but obvious theme and a racially-insensitive version of a children's chant is recited. But what makes the movie particularly unsuited to younger kids is its verbosity. Even teens may find that all the talking taxes their patience, but those who can absorb all the dialogue (and understated, dry English wit) will be rewarded with a classic black comedy.
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What's the story?
When she marries for love, a woman is disinherited by her titled family. After her husband's death, she struggles to raise her son Louis (Dennis Price), always reminding him that he has been cheated out of a dukedom. The death of Louis's mother, an insult from a cousin, and rejection by his sweetheart Sibella all lead Louis to plan to kill the rival heirs to the title (all played by Sir Alec Guinness. He sets about his mission carefully, getting to know each of his relatives (who don't know who he really is) before murdering them.
Is it any good?
The comedy is delightfully dry and understated, and the various murders are depicted with a touch of silliness. A film like KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS could only come from England; of course, this is partly because the plot depends on a peerage system that doesn't exist many other places. But more important, the stodgy system of ancient families provides a perfect backdrop for the ironic humor. Each of the victims is played by the wonderful Sir Alec Guinness, who proves that he can convincing create characters wordlessly. He's especially funny as a doddering old parson and as Lady Agatha, the family's suffragette.
Of course, none of these qualities makes Kind Hearts and Coronets interesting or appropriate for children. Carried almost completely by dialogue, the black-and-white film is occasionally underlit, lacks music, and is paced slowly. Teen anglophiles may enjoy it; otherwise, this is a pleasure best left for adulthood.
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