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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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