Sunday, 7 November 2010



To be fair, the film slightly cops out by announcing itself as based on truth, "except for the bits that aren't". I haven't researched the absolute fact in any great detail beyond a perusal of the Wikipedia page devoted to B+H's crimes, but there's nothing on there about Burke financing the world's first all-female production of Macbeth, or Hare setting up Scotland's first funeral parlour. It's pretty clear that the basics - selling the bodies of murder victims to anatomy colleges - are used as a springboard for a gruesome piece of all-star knockabout that wobbles between post-watershed sitcom to ghoulish horror comedy. And as it's directed by John Landis, this is entirely an appropriate treatment - he's done horror comedy before with An American Werewolf In London.

Central to Burke & Hare is the relationship between the two Williams, Hare (Andy Serkis) and Burke (Simon Pegg), and there's definitely a touch of Del and Rodney in the two of them: con artists, hapless but loveable losers at the bottom of the underclass, forever looking for their shot at the big time. Purely by chance and circumstance, they hit upon the idea of selling fresh corpses to anatomist and professor Knox (Tom Wilkinson) at Edinburgh's most prestigious medical college. But what can they do when demand outstrips supply and there are plenty of people on the streets who won't be missed? Sadly for them, the local militia is on the case, headed by no less than Ronnie Corbett.

Yes, Ronnie Corbett. What the movie has going for it is an eye-watering cast of big names and familiar faces coming on for a scene or two - in Christopher Lee's case, it's quite literally a cough and a spit. Isla Fisher and Jessica Hynes as our nonheroes' repective love interests, Tim Curry as a rival surgeon, Bill Bailey as the hangman and narrator, David Hayman as a sinister underworld figure, Michael Winner as Man In Carriage, Paul Whitehouse as a drunk. No less than three veterans of American Werewolf turn up: Jenny Agutter as an auditioning actress, John Woodvine as the Mayor and David Schofield as Hayman's henchman. It's absolutely terrific in terms of "blimey it's him!" or "oh, who IS that?".

All the stuff with the dead bodies is great. But sadly the film as a whole doesn't seem to work quite as well as it should. Certainly it's enjoyable: it's undeniably a lot better than other stabs at the same material, such as the 1971 version which is even more uneven in tone, veering all over the place between pointless Benny Hill naughtiness and pleasingly tacky tomfoolery with corpses. Yet there's a sense that something's missing - it rather feels like that first series of The Black Adder where they tried so hard to make it look and feel realistic and authentic, but they didn't make it funny enough and it ultimately feels a bit flat.

There's also the problem that our two central characters are nothing more than serial murderers, and while they do try and address this by adding a sense of Shakespearian tragedy to proceedings, I didn't think it did enough to redeem two highly unsavoury individuals. But it's not a disaster; it's obviously worth seeing, there's a terrific galley of talent on display and the more macabre sequences win out over the comedic.


No comments: