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Posts Tagged ‘1820s’

In Edinburgh in 1828, several murders were committed by Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare, two grave robbers turned murderers, who sold the bodies of their victims to Doctor Knox, a respected doctor who gave lectures on anatomy.  This might seem like an odd subject for a comedy, but it nevertheless forms the basis of this film starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as the title characters.

The film is a highly fictionalised account of what took place, and depicts Burke and Hare as two bumblers, who seem to stumble upon their money-making scheme almost by accident, after previous schemes and scams failed to prove profitable.  It must be quite a challenge to take two spree killers, who murdered people purely for profit, and make them likeable characters on screen.  Their crimes were obviously inexcusable, but the film is clearly not meant to be taken seriously, and with Pegg and Serkis, the characters were interesting and funny to watch.  Pegg played Burke as a romantic, who did what he did for love (to fund a performance of Macbeth that his aspiring actress girlfriend was appearing in), while Serkis played Hare as the more nefarious of the two.  Both actors – but especially Serkis – were brilliant, and a supporting cast including Ronnie Corbett, Isla Fisher, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry and Jessica Hynes doesn’t exactly hurt matters.

It is quite weird to reconcile heinous crimes with comedy entertainment, but somehow it all works, and there is a particularly nice shot at the very end of the film, showing the real-life skeleton of Burke, which is now at Edinburgh University Museum.  There were very mixed reviews of this film when it came out, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Well worth a watch.

Year of release: 2010

Director: John Landis

Producers: James Atherton, Paul Brett, Jan Pace, Tim Smith, Alexandra Ferguson, James Spring, Barnaby Thompson

Writers: Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft

Main cast: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Smiley, Tim Curry, Isla Fisher, Jessica Hynes, Ronnie Corbett

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This book, set in London in 1829, is the first book in a series about Pyke, a Bow Street Runner, and sometime crook of questionable (to say the least) morals.

The book is set at a time for great change for the policing system: Home Secretary Peel had his plans to set up one ruling Police Force, and thus put Runners like Pike, out of work.  His plans were opposed by many, and this conflict is very well illustrated in this book.

Pyke finds himself caught up in trying to solve a brutal triple murder, and his investigations uncover a web of deception which perhaps goes as high as the Government itself, and which threatens Pyke’s livelihood and even his life.  

Aided by an enigmatic society beauty (which comes across far less cliched than that sounds), Pyke has to stay one step ahead of the powers that be at all time, as he faces danger from known and unknown persons.

I really enjoyed this book.  The action moves along at a fair old pace, and I never found myself getting bored.  1820s London is brought vividly to life, with detailed descriptions of the way of life.  However, the historical references did not detract from the main storyline; they merely served to help set the scene.

Pyke is a terrific main character.  He is a cruel and brutal man, who I felt I should dislike, but there was just enough goodness in him to make me want to root for him all the way.  As a character who was very believable, his actions still took me by surprise on many occasions.

There is a lot of violence and bloodshed in this book, and I can certainly see that that in itself would turn a lot of readers off.  I wouldn’t recommend it to a squeamish friend!  However, if you want a good crime mystery with plenty of twists and turns, and don’t mind some blood and gore, this is a great read.  I look forward to reading the next installment.

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