Burke and Hare

Burke and HareThis movie is based on a true story. Let me say that now. In 1828, two Irish men, living in Edinburgh, began to kill people so that they could sell the bodies to the medical schools that were flourishing in Scotland at the time. Autopsies were spectator events, and the medical men needed bodies to carry on with their work.

That being said, this is not an action movie, or a scary movie. It’s a comedy.  With Simon Pegg (who I love), and Andy Serkis as Burke and Hare. And there are other actors that I love, including Bill Bailey as the hangman, Jessica Hynes (Daisy!) as Hare’s lady, Michael Smiley (Tyres!), and Tim Curry, looking gleeful after sawing off a man’s leg:

burke_and_hare_movie_image_tim_curry_joblo_branded_01The doctors doing anatomy lectures were willing to pay 5 pounds for each body, because it was difficult to find people who would willingly give over their relatives.  Burke and Hare have a tenant who dies, and they stumble upon the truth that they can get paid for his body.  After that, they slide pretty easily into the act of murder in order to sell the bodies.  At first, it is only old people, friendless and without family, but they venture beyond that group when they need to.  Hare uses his share of the money to dress himself and his lady in the finest frocks.  Burke falls in love with an ex-prostitute, played by Isla Fisher, and uses his share to fund her all-female production of Macbeth.


Boys can be very dumb sometimes.

Most of the movie is taken up with the boys luring their victims into darkened corners, or physically struggling to transport them up and down the Edinburgh hills.

Edinburgh is, probably, my 3rd favorite city in the world, and I find it especially delightful that very little had to be altered to make this movie (set in the 1830s) possible. The old town area looks mostly the same now as it did in the 1830s. The ‘new town’ area is from the 18th century.  The ‘new town’ part of Edinburgh is older than my entire country, just for some perspective. 

Everyone in this movie has great comedy chops.  I think someone other than me might find this movie hilarious.  But I couldn’t get past the fact that this was a true story about serial murder. 

I had a similar reaction to Dr. Strangelove when I saw it.  When these black comedies are about something so foul and catastrophic, I just can’t find them funny. I take life too seriously.

The movie mentions that Burke and Hare murdered an old woman, a fat man, a freed slave…a total of at least 16 murders. For pretty clothes and the affection of an ex-prostitute? A freed slave, who must have thought he’d lived through enough hell for several lifetimes, is killed in Edinburgh for 10 pounds, and then dissected in front of an upper-class audience.  I just can’t find it funny. Especially since it is a true story. Although, in reading about the true story, I see that Sir Walter Scott thought they were an alright duo: they “have cleard the streets of some of those miserable offcasts of society, whom nobody missd because nobody wishd to see them again”.  Oh Sir Walter Scott…why is there a landmark devoted to you? You seem awful. And I couldn’t even make it through the first 100 pages of Ivanhoe, so you’re really not that great. In other news that I never wanted to know, I’ve just seen that Burke, after he was hanged, was dissected in a sold-out autopsy ‘performance’. They used his blood to fill a fountain pen and write out some lines. They made a ‘leather’ calling card case from his skin.  Ew.  Also, if you’re a macabre sort of person, they have masks made from Burke and Hare’s heads in the Anatomy Museum at the U of Edinburgh. Maybe I’ll stop by next time…but I won’t be watching this movie again. 

3 responses to “Burke and Hare

  1. I was really disappointed by this movie. It wasn’t funny enough, but it wasn’t dark enough either. It was this kind of tepid and uninteresting middle ground. I do adore everyone in the cast, but I had also recently seen “The Doctor and the Devils” which is basically the same story so it was an even bigger yawnfest than it might have been.

  2. Frivolous Monsters

    I caught this a few months ago on TV. It was alright, with a great cast, but not a great film as it had to stick to history. Burke and Hare are famous over here, and so the content comes with less shock, perhaps. Although I was really surprised at the end to find out that Hare got off and went on to become a successful businessman.

    We have a sort-of antiques programme over here called Four Rooms (the US version is Final Offer) where the person with the “stuff” they want to sell can take the offer from the dealer in room 1, or try for a better one in the next room. On this appeared a card case made from the skin of William Burke. I don’t think anyone wanted to buy it, but the internet list has gone now, so I don’t know.

    And am I right in understanding that you didn’t finish the film, or not make it to the end of the credits at least? If you do then you’ll find that the real William Burke puts in an appearance in the Edinburgh museum! I wasn’t expecting that.

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