Posted by: greercn | October 28, 2010

Burke and Hare

This adorable comedy beautifully sends up the kind of British period dramas that have women bobbing around like mobile tea cosies on Sunday nights. If your brain just switches off when someone says “forsooth”, you will be a very happy viewer watching “Burke and Hare”.

It’s genuinely funny and cuts to the bone of these cynical and deprived times – literally. Blood and gore are cartoonish and are, as they say, essential to the plot.

If you don’t know who Burke and Hare were, they won fame as pre-Victorian providers of corpses for the posh medical boys of Edinburgh. I have no idea how accurate this portrayal of history is, although the idea that they helped medical science develop pathology rings a vague memory bell.

You don’t need to know anything about them to enjoy this. Simon Pegg as Burke and Andy Serkis as Hare fizz with delighted energy and carry all along with them over a 90-minute romp. Even the mandatory excrement sight gag is pretty funny and underscores the hazards of poverty.

Isla Fisher is an enthusiastic actress here, putting on an all female Scottish Play and shining as brightly as she always does. Her great instincts for physical comedy will take her to a long-lasting career.

Of the others in the cast, Jessica Hynes as Mrs Hare (“Lucky”), Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, Bill Bailey and Ronnie Corbett al stand out. This is a very British Ealing comedy, ably directed by John Landis and scoring loads of laughs in its refreshingly brief length. It doesn’t linger or bore. This is Ealing at its most adorable and succinct.

Apart from merciless lampooning of British drama, there are some lovely scenes that mock Irish stereotypes. Think whisky and beer ads and “Riverdance” and you will appreciate the gentle mockery here.

Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft have the writing credits and their lack of self-indulgence is a breath of fresh air. Christopher Lee is here – briefly – and the roll call of familiar British actors gives a drive and flow to the whole.

I have been watching loads of the British Film Institute London Film Festival movies and have seen very few films that will give the joy of this. It was lovely to be back at my beloved Stratford Picture House with the movie loving staff after too much time in gorgeous seats in other venues. Stratford has its faults – must everyone talk to each other and to their mobile phones constantly – but it’s still a sort of home to me.

The BFI pick of the crop is yet to come in this blog, as I mull over my notes from a dozen new movies. Do see “Burke and Hare”. It will provide you with an enormous sense of fun and make you think you are learning something, gently.

I have reconsidered two movies I was very hard on, earlier. I was given “The Box” and “It’s Complicated” on DVD for my birthday. My heart sank. I have bad memories of seeing both in the cinema. On a small screen, Frank Langella and Cameron Diaz are great in “The Box” and it has a genuinely spooky sense of horror. The plot is about a box which – if Cameron presses the button – a stranger will die and she will get a million dollars. It’s not a big picture, but it’s a really entertaining little and provocative horror. I was wrong. It’s good.

Similarly, I detested “It’s Complicated”. And yet, it really works on DVD. Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin are all spot on when they describe the concerns of getting older. There is a wry love of life I missed first time out and I am grateful that friends who know I cannot ignore a wrapped DVD for very long gave me the chance to reconsider. I was wrong. You were right.

I am coming up to 100 posts here. What would you like me to do for post 100? I invite suggestions and ideas.



  1. I agree. It was entertaining, and the performances were all really good. I did feel like it had been a bit rushed, though. Maybe it’s just me, but the timing seemed a bit off, and I think some jokes would have been funnier if given a little more space.
    Very entertaining, though, overall.

    • That’s a really good point. Maybe it could have taken more time. But after so much length at the BFI movies, I was delighted by the brevity here. Still, glad you commented as I very much respect your opinion. Actually, now you mention it, a few more minutes of Christopher Lee would have been good. I get a little blinded by Isla Fisher as her comedy gene is so effective, physically. And Andy Serkis is just wonderful, too. I don’t much like Simon Pegg, as you know, but he is good in this.

  2. I hope it come to anywhere I am–not a given these days. It sounds like great fun. DO go and see RED, if you haven’t–I’ve seen it twice and roared both times.

    • It’s on my must see list. The clips look like fun. It’s only opening here this week.

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