Kind Hearts and Coronets is a wonderful 1949 movie of how a wrong decendant of a titled family sets about moving the living obstacles between him and that Coronet.
In Edwardian England, Louis Manzzini is the son of a woman ostracised by her aristocratic family for eloping with an Italian Opera singer. Upon her death, the D’Ascoynes deny her last wish: to be entombed in the family crypt. Louis plots to avenge this insult and to inherit the D’Ascoyne dukedom of Chalfont but, initially, twelve relatives stand in his way. Births and deaths see the number vary, “Sometimes the death column brought good news…sometimes the births column brought bad. The advent of twin sons to the Duke was a terrible blow. Fortunately, an epidemic of diphtheria restored the status quo almost immediately and even brought me a bonus in the shape of the Duchess,” but eventually Louis is left with eight people between him and what he sees as his rightful inheritance.
Louis determines to murder them, and kills six of them in inventive, blackly humorous, ways. Two others (the Admiral and the banker) die without his assistance, and Louis becomes the tenth Duke of Chalfont. (The death of the Admiral is based on a real incident, the sinking of HMS Victoria in 1893.)
Complications ensue when Louis is torn between two women: Sibella, his down-to-earth paramour, who is the wife of his childhood rival Lionel, and the refined Edith D’Ascoyne, who is the widow of his second victim. He marries Edith. When Lionel goes bankrupt and kills himself, Sibella hides his suicide note. Louis is tried by his peers in the House of Lords, and is convicted of murdering someone he did not kill.
Awaiting execution, he writes his memoirs, describing all his murders in detail. At the last moment, however, Sibella “finds” the suicide note, and Louis is released. As he steps through the prison gate and greets a cheering crowd, two carriages await him: Edith’s and Sibella’s. Unable to choose between them, he quotes from The Bggar’s Opera, “How happy could I be with either, Were t’other dear charmer away!” When a representative of Tit-Bits magazine approaches him and asks for the publication rights to his memoirs, Louis realizes he has left the incriminating manuscript in his prison cell. The original British version ends at this point, leaving it ambiguous whether Louis’ guilt will be discovered.
This is a delghtful light Ealing movie taking a carefree stroll through the boundaries, rights and social nicities of Edwardian England and how quickly prejudices and feuds can begin.