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Friday April 12th 2024

Kind Hearts And Coronets | 1949

Kind Hearts and Coronet location: Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, Kent
Kind Hearts and Coronets location: ‘Chalfont’, family seat of the aristocratic d'Ascoynes: Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, Kent

Despite a long and illustrious career as one of Britain's finest character actors, Alec Guinness is probably best known to a new generation as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars

Guinness never seemed entirely happy about being taken for an ageing Jedi but, since he’d wisely opted for a percentage of the gross – on what many perceived as a low-budget kiddies’ film – there were compensations.

In Kind Hearts... Guinness famously plays all eight members of the aristocratic d’Ascoyne family, including suffragette Lady d’Ascoyne. This grandstanding turn somewhat overshadows the underrated Dennis Price, in the lead, as Louis Mazzini. The embittered heir to the family estate, Mazzini schemes to remove the d’Ascoynes, who stand between him and what he sees as his rightful inheritance.

Best and – despite its surface gentility – blackest, of the Ealing comedies, it boasts a wonderfully literate script (the Reverend Lord Henry d’Ascoyne has one of my favourite lines in a movie ever: "...I always say that my West Window has all the exuberance of Chaucer without, happily, any of the concomitant crudities of his period").

Kind Hearts and Coronet location: Woodhurst Road, West Acton, London W3
Kind Hearts and Coronets location: the modest childhood home of Louis Mazzini on ‘Balaclava Avenue’: Woodhurst Road, West Acton, London W3

The mother of young Louis Mazzini elopes with her handsome singer, forsaking the d’Ascoyne country estate for the “modern conveniences” of ‘73 Balaclava Avenue, SW’. The Mazzini house remains unchanged at 42 Woodhurst Road, at Cumberland Road, in West Acton, W3.

‘Chalfont’, the family seat of the d’Ascoynes, is Leeds Castle, four miles east of Maidstone on the B2163 (rail: Bearsted), in Kent. Nothing to do with the city of Leeds in Yorkshire, it's named after the nearby village). The castle also provides a backdrop for the 1958 Civil War swashbuckler The Moonraker (not to be confused, of course, with the 70s Bond movie Moonraker).

The Norman castle, rising picturesquely from its own lake, and surrounded by 500 acres of rolling parkland, became a royal residence for Edward I, was home to six queens of England, and was transformed into a grandiose palace by Henry VIII. It’s open to the public daily, except Christmas Day.

And it houses a unique Museum of Dog Collars! What more could you ask?

Mazzini follows as the arrogant Ascoyne d’Ascoyne takes his lady friend for a frisky weekend in the country.

‘Cruikshanks Hotel’, the waterside retreat at which he contrives to send d’Ascoyne’s boat over the weir, is Guards Club Island in the River Thames at Maidenhead, in Berkshire (don’t confuse this with Maidstone in Kent). The boathouse has since been demolished, but you can still cross the elegant cast-iron and wood footbridge, linking Guards Club Park to the island.

The Park itself is open all year round but access to the island, which is a conservation area and a nesting site for water fowl, is restricted during the breeding season between December and June.

Kind Hearts and Coronet filming location: East Street, Harrietsham, Kent
Kind Hearts and Coronets location: Louis cycles to meet photographer Henry: East Street, Harrietsham, Kent | Photograph: wikimedia / Penny Mayes

Off to meet enthusiastic photographer Henry d’Ascoyne, Louis cycles through the village of Harrietsham, a couple of miles east of Leeds Castle in Kent. He turns from Rectory Lane to ride past past the famous Almshouses on East Street. The houses, charitable lodgings for the poor and usually elderly, were originally founded in 1642 by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers of London, though rebuilt in 1770.

He first glimpses the affable Henry, upside down in his viewfinder, while photographing the Cock Inn, Heath Road at Brishing Lane in Boughton Monchelsea, a few miles west of the castle. If you’re touring Kent, you’ll be happy to know that the traditional country pub is still serving refreshing libations.

Kind Hearts and Coronet filming location: St Mary's Church, Denham Buckinghamshire
Kind Hearts and Coronets location: the d’Ascoynes gather for Henry’s funeral: St Mary's Church, Denham Buckinghamshire | Photograph: wikimedia / John Salmon

The funeral of Henry in the village church of ‘Chalfont’ is much closer to the studio in Buckinghamshire. It’s St Mary’s Church, Village Road, Denham – a village often used in films, particularly as ‘St Mary Mead’ in the 1960s Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple mysteries.