Posts Tagged ‘William Burke’

Burke and Hare

October 23, 2015

Dignity in death is an interesting concept that has developed in humanity through the ages. Most of us care about what happens to our body after we leave it. The body is part of our identity when we’re alive so any unnatural harm to it, beyond the ravages of time and nature, is unthinkable. We want the bodies of our loved ones treated with respect and love and delivered to fire or earth by whatever custom each culture has designed. Beyond that, dead bodies are scary and disgusting. They are dealt with in secret and only rarely displayed in public and then hidden away forever. It’s one of the many things we put out of sight so that it’s out of mind and we can move forward. What lovely concepts to set up a comedy script.

Back in the late 1820’s the medical profession was exploding. People were very interested in anatomy and how we were put together. Doctors and unruly students crowded into surgical theaters and watched as famous doctors gave lectures and demonstrations on anatomy with real bodies. Those bodies had to come from somewhere but at the time the only legal source was condemned criminals, sentenced to death and dissection. Of course, that was the only legal source. In stepped William Burke and William Hare who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to get bodies the hard way. To put it plainly, they were willing to murder in order to sell the bodies and their actions led to the Anatomy Act years later which would give researchers better sources for bodies.

I bet you didn’t think you were getting a history lesson today, huh? Well, that true story isn’t the only reason I was attracted to this movie. Simon Pegg’s smiling face is on the cover. Pegg is great as usual, a master of comic timing with a very expressive/confused face. He’s paired with Andy Serkis who you may know as the voice and body work of Gollum and various other computer generated characters. He works really well with Pegg and the two develop a pleasant rhythm that makes them strangely likeable. They are joined by Tim Curry, Tom Wilkinson, Isla Fisher and Hugh Bonneville who are all hilarious in their own way. There’s plenty of other minor roles who are straight men/women or even more ridiculous than the main characters. The movie is directed by John Landis who has an eye for dark comedy.

The movie is set in Scotland (as the real story was) and a little placard lets us know right away that they’re not going to be religious about sticking to the facts. I always prefer this when watching historical movies so that the movie ends up being a tidy and interesting story. If I want a story that’s one hundred percent honest I can research it after the movie and be educated. Anyway, the main characters are bumbling idiots who are down on their luck but mean well enough. I mean, it’s dark humor so neither of them are saints but they’re not the wicked men Burke and Hare probably were.

The movie ends up being kind of a mix of a pinch of a comedy of manners, a lot of zany farce and some sweet love story. All of that with dead bodies, murder and 1800’s surgery. The movie clips along at such a pace that it was past half over before I realized it. The comedy is certainly dark but I found myself laughing out loud a lot despite the gore. There were plenty of great historical references slid into the story and that’s aside from the real story of Burke, Hare and Knox. I wasn’t prepared for the excellent Shakespeare references and parallels but, as a huge Shakespeare fan, I welcomed it heartily. It was kind of the perfect marriage of Landis’ American talents and a healthy dose of British comedy. I definitely suggest you see it if you think you can stomach the dead bodies.

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