kind hearts and coronets

“Acting provokes a gothic anxiety: the terror of the double that mocks and haunts the original. The actor shows us that we could be copied, and also, more alarmingly, that we could be copies: that what we take to be our own feelings and actions could be predetermined and pre-given, belonging to another. After all, the double is never just a duplicate but always a potential usurper. This is the threat implied in the figuration of the actor as a ghost, an enduring association across many cultures, from Hamlet to the ghost plays of Noh.”

Read Shonni Enelow on how performers who multitask as several characters in a single film tap into the essential uncanniness of cinema itself.

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A Gentleman’s Guide to Kind Hearts and Coronets

Comparing Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2013)

Row 1: Louis Mazzini (Dennis Pryce) vs Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham)

Row 2: The D'Ysquith Family (Jefferson Mays) vs The D'Ascoyne Family (Alec Guiness)

Row 3: Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood) vs Sibella Hallward (Lisa O'Hare)

Row 4: Phoebe D'Ysquith (Lauren Worsham) vs Edith D'Ascoyne (Valerie Hobson)

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Happy 101st birthday, Douglas Slocombe (b. 10th Feb 1913)

Douglas is responsible for one of the greatest in-camera effects ever produced on film: six D'Ascoynes in one shot of Kind Hearts and Coronets, and he is rightly celebrated for it as even now - 65 years later - it’s seamless and perfect, and also unshowy. His work with Ealing gave him plenty of opportunity for creative cinematography effects - making the White Suit very very white; showing what Joe is reading in the Trump in Hue and Cry; the dizzying run down the Eiffel Tower steps in The Lavender Hill Mob, to name a few. But he marries this creativity to his experience as a photojournalist and documentary film-maker before the war to lend his Ealing films a realism that was to become a characteristic of the studio.

His work at Ealing also shows his ability with light and shade, his use of shadows and angles to create atmosphere and tension: Michael Redgrave in the train at the beginning of The Captive Heart, Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway waiting for a burglar in the dark in The Lavender Hill Mob. And so this mastery of shadows and angles is perfect for one of the most beautifully shot black-and-white British films, The Servant; where every shadow and every mirror reflection shows the growing twists and warps of the story. 

Had he not lost his sight in his later years it’s entirely possible that he would have continued working: he made the transition to colour and technicolor wonderfully, bringing quality and class to films as varied as The Italian Job, (elevating what is an average film into a thing of beauty) The Great Gatsby, and the first three Indiana Jones films. He is brilliant without being obtrusive: a true master of the medium.