Review for Doncaster Free Press
The real life exploits of the 19th century grave-robbers turned murderers, William Burke and William Hare seem ideal source material for a cinematic thrill. Sadly, Burkeand Hare, the new film from AnAmerican Werewolf in London director, John Landis does not do their story justice and at first glance it’s difficult to see why.
In the lead roles, Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis are more than capable as the eponymous duo and Jessica Hynes provides decent support as Serkis’ bawdy wife. In a true celebration of British talent, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, and Ronnie Corbett all enjoy substantial roles, and there are brief cameos from horror stalwart Christopher Lee and director Michael Winner. Landis’ recreation of early 19th Century Edinburgh is convincing and his direction never seems less than that we’d expect from a veteran of his standard. The production is brought to us from Ealing Studios and harks back to that studio’s golden age where films such as KindHearts and Coronets and TheLadykillers dealt with murder in a wickedly funny and subversive way.
So why doesn’t it work? The main problem is the screenplay. Ultimately, no matter how hard the cast try, if the script isn’t up to scratch, the end product is unlikely to flourish. The film is pitched at the humorous end of the market – no danger of gritty realism here - but the laugh count simply isn’t high enough. Making an audience care about two murderers is a tough sell and this is accomplished but beyond that, there’s a feeling of a lost opportunity. The tone is confused; starting out slightly macabre and then introducing an awkward romantic subplot involving Isla Fisher (who has startling perfect teeth for a 19th century ex-prostitute). There’s nothing wrong with mixing genres but the film doesn’t seem confident enough in its own identity and unfortunately falls between two stools; neither funny enough for a comedy, nor dark enough for a dramatic horror.
I was really looking forward to this film and maybe that those high expectations led to the disappointment. It’s certainly not dreadful but you just feel it could have been so much better.