Compiled in this collection are three of the best comedies produced by Ealing Studios — The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and The Man in the White Suit — each one a paragon of the phrase “they don’t make ‘em like this any more”. Defined by a mordant, elegant sense of humour, these films have dated only in the sense that no longer would a studio invest in a project that takes its cues from the likes of T.S. Eliot or Tennyson.
But they haven’t mellowed with age. Instead they remain just as funny and as acerbic as they must have seemed to audiences when they were first released, back in post-war Britain, when the country had been blighted by war, and an antiquated class system was ripe for ridicule. It doesn’t matter that so many of the targets at which these films take aim are no longer relevant. The films themselves are still as wonderful as ever.
Perhaps the best known of the three included here is The Lavender Hill Mob, a tale of a seemingly unremarkable bank clerk, who is regarded with such little suspicion by his colleagues that he is able to mastermind a plan to rob the Bank of England. It stars the great Alec Guinness, Ealing’s go-to man, whose performance here alone is worth the price of the collection. Yet the film also boasts an early screen performance from Audrey Hepburn, and features an unpredictably compelling plot, which never ceases to amuse.
The second in the collection, Kind Hearts and Coronets, is perhaps the greatest film in the entire Ealing collection; a searing dissection of class and Edwardian society, which tells the story of a young man disinherited by his aristocratic family due to his mother’s decision to marry an Italian opera singer. Here Alec Guinness features in a remarkable eight different roles as various unsuspecting members of the family, in what eventually takes the form of very dark comedy.
The third film, The Man in the White Suit, is no less ingenious. It concerns a humble chemist, who invents a stain-proof, indestructible fabric, thereby sparking an all-out war between the covetous textile barons who wish to keep this brilliant innovation under wraps. Once again, it stars Alec Guinness, in another inimitable performance, which demonstrates once again his marvellous range as an actor.
In addition to these films, this release includes an enormous section of extras, including DVD commentaries, an introduction to The Lavender Hill Mob by Martin Scorsese, a large gallery of behind the scenes stills, a BBC Radio 3 essay on Kind Hearts and Coronets, and much more. For anybody wishing for an introduction to Ealing comedies, this is a great place to start.
The Ealing Blu-Ray Box Set is available to own on DVD from March 31