×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Burke & Hare

A decade ago, U.K. shingle Fragile Films resurrected the treasured Ealing Studios brand, and "Burke & Hare" reps their closest attempt yet to match the tone and content of such beloved Ealing classics as "The Ladykillers" (1955).

With:
William Burke - Simon Pegg William Hare - Andy Serkis Ginny - Isla Fisher Lucky - Jessica Hynes Dr. Knox - Tom Wilkinson Dr. Monro - Tim Curry Captain McLintoch - Ronnie Corbett Lord Harrington - Hugh Bonneville Fergus - David Schofield Nicephone - Allan Corduner atterson - Michael Smiley

A decade ago, U.K. shingle Fragile Films resurrected the treasured Ealing Studios brand, and “Burke & Hare” reps their closest attempt yet to match the tone and content of such beloved Ealing classics as “The Ladykillers” (1955). So much for intention. As for achievement, the film struggles to match the original Ealing’s quality benchmark, and its unapologetically old-fashioned sensibility may have trouble connecting with contempo auds. Helmer John Landis’ amiable, creaky comedy about 19th-century corpse retailers Burke and Hare should rattle some funny bones in native Blighty, but may face B.O. graveyards abroad.

In 1828 Edinburgh, Irish immigrants William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis) strike it rich when Hare’s elderly tenant dies of natural causes. Learning there’s a ready market for freshly deceased bodies at the laboratory of pioneering anatomist Dr. Robert Knox (Tom Wilkinson), the pair shove the dead man into a herring barrel and wheel him off to collect a rich fee. From there, it’s a slippery slope of moral hazard, as they hasten another aged tenant’s departure via a helpful bout of suffocation, then induce a heart attack in an obese stranger. Burke and Hare have somehow stumbled into the lucrative trade of body-snatching.

Crafting a satisfying comedy celebrating two notorious serial killers certainly qualifies as a writing challenge, so credit goes to co-scripters Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft for devising credibly sympathetic protagonists. Burke is sensibly awarded two redeeming features: his ethical quandary, which he continues to voice right up until the end, and his love for pretty young thesp-prostitute Ginny (Isla Fisher), who needs funds to mount her innovative all-female theater production of “Macbeth.” Hare’s impulse is more straightforwardly avaricious, although his troubled home life — the turnabout in his fortunes revives the spirits, and libido, of his wife (Jessica Hynes) — likewise provides a rooting interest.

Where the script stumbles is in its absence of any especially funny setpieces or memorable lines. Instead, the scribes seem to think a general tone of wry amusement will suffice, with some slapstick thrown in for good measure; at the screening caught, the biggest laughs attended Serkis and Hynes enjoying vigorous sex, plus a nice piece of physical comedy as one intended victim (Brit comedian Paul Whitehouse) survives death by concrete steps. A chamber pot of feces supplies a comedy lowlight, while the sight of bumptious film director Michael Winner (star of an annoying series of TV commercials in the U.K.) being driven off a cliff is a joke that might not travel.

Pegg and Fisher, just about holding up their end of the bargain by delivering the film’s portion of sweet romance, are hardly given anything funny to say. However, Serkis, a late replacement for an ankling David Tennant (TV’s “Doctor Who”), proves a winning presence as the less scrupulous Hare, and Hynes is aces in her limited role.

Casting of the supporting players suggests a keen eye on the domestic market, which should lap up an overly broad turn from veteran comedian Ronnie Corbett (from TV’s “The Two Ronnies”) as unlikely militia officer Capt. McLintoch; overall, the smaller roles earn better-than-they-deserve assists from the likes of Hugh Bonneville, Allan Corduner and David Schofield. Tim Curry struggles manfully with Dr. Monro, a jealous rival of Dr. Knox’s with a penchant for amputating feet.

Edinburgh setting provides an excuse for Joby Talbot’s jaunty Scottish-flavored score. Overall tech credits are pro, with budget on display where needed, such as the extras-packed public hangings that bookend the film. Though “Burke & Hare” hardly reps a return to form for the director of “An American Werewolf In London,” it’s worth remembering that Landis’ last feature directing film credits are “Susan’s Plan” and “Blues Brothers 2000” (both 1998). Viewed through that prism, his latest reps a step back from the brink.

Burke & Hare

U.K.

Production: An Entertainment Films Distributors release of a Entertainment Films and Ealing Studios presentation of a Fragile Films production in association with Aegis Film Fund, Prescience, Quickfire Films. (International sales: Ealing Studios Intl.) Produced by Barnaby Thompson. Executive producers, Nigel Green, James Spring, Tim Smith, Paul Brett, Peter Nichols, James Atherton, Jan Pace. Co-producer, Alexandra Ferguson. Directed by John Landis. Screenplay, Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen,) John Mathieson; editor, Mark Everson; music, Joby Talbot; production designer, Simon Elliott; supervising art director, Bill Crutcher; art director, Nick Dent; set decorator, Annie Gilhooly; costume designer, Deborah Nadoolman; supervising sound editor (Dolby Digital), Harry Barnes; re-recording mixers, Gareth Bull, Adam Mendez; visual effects supervisor, Angela Barson; associate producer, Nichola Martin; assistant director, Alexander Oakley; casting, Dan Hubbard. Reviewed at Curzon Chelsea, London, Oct. 25, 2010. (In Rome Film Festival -- Extra, noncompeting.) Running time: 91 MIN.

Cast: William Burke - Simon Pegg William Hare - Andy Serkis Ginny - Isla Fisher Lucky - Jessica Hynes Dr. Knox - Tom Wilkinson Dr. Monro - Tim Curry Captain McLintoch - Ronnie Corbett Lord Harrington - Hugh Bonneville Fergus - David Schofield Nicephone - Allan Corduner atterson - Michael SmileyWith: Paul Whitehouse, Michael Winner.

More Scene

  • Adam Driver appears at the curtain

    Adam Driver on Starring in 'Burn This' for a Second Time

    The Hudson Theatre’s new production of “Burn This” marks its first Broadway revival since it premiered on the Great White Way in 1987, but Adam Driver is no stranger to the work. He starred as Pale in a Juilliard production of the Lanford Wilson drama when he was still a student — and only now, [...]

  • PMC Event Rome

    Film, Fashion, Formula E Mix at Rome E-Prix Bash

    Film, fashion and Formula E auto-racing fused during a dinner and celebration of the Rome E-Prix on Thursday at the Palazzo Dama by the Piazza del Popolo in the heart of the Eternal City.  Guests mingled and sipped cocktails as hors d’oeuvres were passed around in a former home of the Italian nobility with conversation [...]

  • Katy Perry, Diane von Furstenberg, Arianna

    Katy Perry and Anita Hill Honored at the DVF Awards

    Katy Perry was among the honorees at the 10th Annual DVF Awards on Thursday night. The singer was recognized for her advocacy work with both UNICEF and the LGBTQ community. “Music has opened the doors for so many opportunities for me,” she said while accepting the inspiration award. “The ability to meet people and champion [...]

  • Chrissy Metz'Breakthrough' Film Premiere, Arrivals, Regency

    Why 'This Is Us' Star Chrissy Metz Could End Up Performing at the Next Oscars

    Chrissy Metz made her live-singing debut on Sunday when she performed “I’m Standing With You” from her new movie “Breakthrough.” Was that just a step on her way to performing at the Oscars? Could be. The song was written by 10-time Oscar nominee Diane Warren. “They said Chrissy had to sing it and I was [...]

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Disney's Bob Iger Blasts Hateful Political Discourse and Social Media: 'We Can Do Better'

    Bob Iger didn’t mince words while being honored Thursday by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Upon receiving the Humanitarian Award at the organization’s National Tribute Dinner from Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO delivered a scathing critique of social media and the current state of political discourse. “Hate and anger are dragging us [...]

  • David Harbour'Hellboy' special film screening, Arrivals,

    Why David Harbour Just Compared 'Hellboy' to 'Hamlet'

    David Harbour understands if movie-goers don’t realize he’s the star of the new “Hellboy.” “I was kind of stunned. It’s quite a transformation. I didn’t even recognize myself,” the “Stranger Things” star recalls about seeing himself for the first time as the half-demon superhero. “And as the process went on I started to actually fetishize [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content