Top positive review
A Marmite movie if ever there was one - you'll either enjoy it or hate it
11 December 2011
John Landis' Burke and Hare takes us back to Edinburgh in 1828, where life is cheap but the price skyrockets when you die. As Bill Bailey's genial hangman breezily fills us in on the historical background while he's preparing to execute an elderly and decrepit whore, it's the time of the Scottish Enlightenment and the city has become the medical capital of the world, but the path of scientific progress is hindered by the lack of fresh bodies to dissect. Things get even worse when Dr Alexander Monroe (Tim Curry) gets the monopoly on the bodies of the hanged, forcing Dr Robert Knox (Tom Wilkinson) to more drastic measures. Enter genial lowlife conmen Burke and Hare (Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, both sporting credible Irish brogues) who, after failing miserably at grave robbing, decide to take a more hands on approach to the supply-and-demand problem...
The subject of many a horror film, Landis and the revived Ealing Studios take their lead more from the studio's classic black comedies like Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers than Hammer (though Landis is enough of a buff to more than just doff his cap in their direction), updated with plenty of talk of business models and swipes at society's hypocrisy as our evil Laurel and Hardy ply their trade. Burke's romance with Isla Fisher's actress/working girl looking for a backer for her all-female version of MacBeth doesn't really add much to the mix beyond giving him the opportunity to fob off her queries about where he gets his money from with "I'm in surgical supplies," but the film is brisk and breezy enough to never outstay its welcome and manages to pull off turning a pair of `Irish psychopaths' into romantic heroes of a sort in a feelgood comedy. There's an intriguingly eclectic supporting cast, from Jessica Hynes/Stevenson as Mrs Hare and Ronnie Corbett as the local militiaman and, as is par for the course with the director, there are cameos aplenty, from Jenny Agutter and John Woodvine from An American Werewolf in London to Ray Harryhausen, Costa Gavras (et famille) and cinematographer Robert Paynter while Christopher Lee is numbered among the victims - even the real William Burke is persuaded to make an end credits cameo. Although John Mathieson's scope photography feels a little flat at times, there's some especially impressive production and costume design to give the film a bigger look than its budget implies, and despite its somewhat undeserved critical drubbing it's hard not to embrace a film that ends with a romantic sacrifice riffing on A Tale of Two Cities and which sends Michael Winner off a cliff for a laugh.
Entertainment's Bluray offers a decent 2.40:1 transfer with 10 deleted scenes, outtakes and rather more substantial than usual cast and crew interviews as extras.