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Burke & Hare

Entertainment | Published:

The murderous exploits of two Irish immigrants, who terrorised the streets of 1820s Edinburgh, provide the inspiration for John Landis's ghoulish black comedy.

Opening with a succinct disclaimer - 'This is a true story...

except for the parts that are not' - Burke & Hare wraps the grisly facts in a shroud of slapstick, sickly romance and anachronistic sight gags.

When the titular body snatchers unearth their very first coffin, loyal Skye terrier Greyfriars Bobby sits watching them atop his owner's grave, more than 30 years before the real John Gray shuffled his mortal coil.

Dr Lister, who was barely out of his mother's womb when the real murders began, is a figure of fun because of his halitosis while Charles Darwin, who was at least in the Scottish capital at the time, warrants an aside.

Screenwriters Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft struggle to strike the right tone.

The mix of black comedy and tragedy isn't so much bad taste as completely tasteless.

Irish scallywags William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis) return home to learn from that one of their elderly lodgers has passed away.

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A conversation with grave robber Fergus (David Schofield) reveals that medical professor Dr Knox (Tom Wilkinson) will pay three pounds for a fresh cadaver to use in his anatomical demonstrations.

'I thought that life here was supposed to be cheap,' asks Hare.

'It is, but the price rockets when you're dead,' smirks Fergus.

Demand far outstrips supply and soon Burke and Hare are helping the ageing and the infirm to meet their maker a tad earlier than expected.

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While Hare keeps his wife Lucky (Jessica Hynes) sweet with a cut of the profits, Burke invests his share in an all-female production of Hamlet fronted by aspiring actress Ginny (Isla Fisher).

Over in Surgeon Square, the increasingly prolific Dr Knox continues to cross scalpels with his traditionalist rival Dr Monro (Tim Curry).

'How are your students enjoying your lectures?' snarls Monro.

'Not as much as they are enjoying your wife,' cheekily retorts Knox.

Burke & Hare is as stiff as lifeless as the unfortunate souls that the eponymous duo delivers to the surgical slab.

Pegg and Serkis share lukewarm screen chemistry and the script doesn't provide them with any decent one-liners.

Curry camps it up as best he can to offset the gloomy, grey production design but a running gag about his foot obsession is lame.

The screen is littered with pointless cameos including Christopher Lee as an ill-fated lodger, Paul Whitehouse as a drunkard and Stephen Merchant as one of the King's foot men.

So much talent going to waste.

At the end of the film, cameras venture inside Edinburgh Anatomy Museum and linger on the skeleton of the real life William Burke, well preserved more than 180 years after the murderer swung from the gallows.

Landis's film will be dead, buried and forgotten in a couple of months, if it's lucky.

  • Release Date: Friday 29 October 2010
  • Certificate: 15
  • Runtime: 91mins

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