Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Guinness at 100


Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alec Guinness . In the spring a film commemorating his birth will be shown at the “Foxlowe” in Leek. (Incidentally I think it’s a brilliant idea to show a film on the same day as the “Totally Locally” market)   The showing of an Alec Guinness film is no accident as I suggested that this anniversary should be marked. The film chosen was the 1949 black comedy “ Kind Hearts and Coronets”. It is an exquisite essay in snobbery, class and revenge as Louis Mazzini the anti hero of the film points out” revenge is a dish that people of taste prefer to eat cold” as he murders his way to a dukedom. Louis, the result of a behind stairs liaison between an Italian Opera singer and the daughter of a Duke, takes revenge on the aristocratic family that have snubbed him condemning Louis and his mother to the dreary existence of living in Clapham. The film continues as Louis befriends members of the Dascoyne family and then kills them off one by one dispatching the Duke while spending the weekend as his guest. “It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms” as Mazzini remarks in one of the many felicitous comments in the film. The eight members of the Dascoyne family were played by Alec Guinness including the role of Lady Agatha Dascoyne a suffragette killed while flying a balloon over London to distribute women’s rights leaflets.” I shot an arrow in the air; she fell to earth in Berkeley Square”.


“Kind Hearts and Coronets, the title is taken from a Tennyson poem, is among my favourite films. It also was tellingly Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath’s favourite. I can imagine that he, as it were had to “murder” many a Tory grandee on his way to the top. To conclude the film also includes a brief appearance in his first screen role of Arthur Lowe as a reporter and Miles Malleson as the hangman “Even my lamented master, the great Mr. Berry himself, never had the privilege of hanging a duke. What a finale to a lifetime in the public service!”


Alec Guinness starred 3 years later as the principle character Denry Machin in an adaptation of the Arnold Bennett novella “The Card”. He was joined in the film in another actor who appeared in “Kind Hearts” Valerie Hobson. It was filmed on location in Burslem and Middleport and is interesting in that it shows the Potteries in all its smoky glory. “The Card” in question was based on the real life character of Harold Hales, entrepreneur, showman, eccentric and at the end of his life MP for Hanley. Hales inaugurated the "Hales Trophy" for the Blue Riband award for the ship with the record for the fastest transatlantic crossing. It was commissioned in 1933 and designed by Henry Pidduck & Sons Ltd of Hanley at a cost of $4,000. In the 1890s Hales cycled on a penny-farthing for a bet against a horseman to get from Burslem to Leek in the shortest time. Hales won.