Burke & Hare, Murder & Fun


As a loooong time fan of Simon Pegg from the days of Spaced, I’ve pretty much watched everything he’s ever touched in any way, but somehow Burke & Hare (2010) entirely evaded my radar until recently. What’s more, it didn’t just have Simon Pegg … It co-stars Andy Sirkis and has cameos from Jessica Hynes, Bill Bailey, Stephen Merchant, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, and goddamn Christopher “Sauron” Lee just to round out the epicness of the cast. Isla Fisher is the romantic female lead, and she’s cute and whatever, but pretty much any young woman could have played her character.

Like all Simon Pegg vehicles, it’s a dark comedy with strong horror overtones. It’s not as gory as, say, Shawn of the Dead, or as action-y as Hot Fuzz, but it splits the difference nicely and adds a true-story-except-for-the-parts-that-aren’t layer over the historical characters of Williams Burke and Hare, body snatchers. Basically, it’s exactly what you would expect from a historical flick as interpreted by John Landis and staring Simon Pegg. One part slapstick, one part pathos, two parts insanity.

Burke & Hare (2010)

You thought I was kidding, didn’t you.

The film is based on the notorious Burke & Hare, a pair of Irish reprobates who discover a lucrative niche industry in early 19th-century Edinburgh in supplying fresh cadavers to one of two competing medical schools. Grave robbing was a risky prospect, so Messrs. Burke & Hare decided to just eliminate the middlemen and started offing unsuspecting citizens in order to meet the supply demands of Dr. Robert Knox, their primary customer, who was making a killing (ha!) with public autopsies.

Burke & Hare (2010)

Tom Wilkinson kills it in the weskit & cravat department.

The cash comes rolling in for the two Irishmen, however their success is short lived. The local militia catches on to the sudden disappearances of a number of citizens and begins to put two-and-two together, leading to the implication of Burke & Hare in the entire scheme. They are jailed, and Burke ends up taking the fall to spare Hare and their wives. Or maybe he was set-up to take the fall… It’s all kind of up in the air, but the film takes the “noble sacrifice” route and justice is served and everyone moves on. Except for Burke, who ends up with his skeleton on permanent display in the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh Medical School in a sort of poetic justice kind of punishment. The film takes a lot of liberties, but stays true to the overall history.

The costumes were designed by Deborah Nadoolman, who, randomly, is best known for her work on The Blues Brothers, Raiders of the Lost Arc, and ¡Three Amigos! Oh, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller short film/music video. Which, I suppose makes sense, when you factor into account that John Landis directed three out of four of those films, in addition to this one. Anyway,  I’m here to testify the costumes were pretty darn good, even if the women’s gowns were still a tad too high-waisted for 1828-1829.

Burke & Hare (2010)

The side-plot of the all-female cast of Macbeth was pretty rad.


Burke & Hare (2010)

Fun fact: Isla Fisher was apparently three months pregnant during the filming and unbeknownst to the director, would forego wearing a pair of stays in favor of wearing a push-up bra. Whatever, I’m just happy it’s the right silhouette.


Burke & Hare (2010)

Yep, everyone is in proper headgear except the lead actress.


Burke & Hare (2010)

This fabulous gown worn by Jessica Hynes needed WAY MORE SCREENTIME. Unfortunately, we only get a shot of it from the waist up. :(


Burke & Hare (2010)

Rocking the biddy bonnet like a fucking rockstar. #JessicaHynes4Lyfe


2010 Burke and Hare

Oof, that’s gotta smart.


Burke & Hare (2010)

Murder is serious business.


Burke & Hare (2010)

The love story at the center of the film makes all the murderin’ a little more palatable. On a side note, I have no idea what’s going on with Ginny’s dress, so don’t ask me.


Burke & Hare (2010)

Another shot of one of Tom Wilkinson’s amazing weskits.


Burke & Hare (2010)

Tim Curry as Dr. Monro, in one of his last film appearances before switching almost entirely to voice-work.


All in all, my take on the film was as follows: beautifully filmed, lightly horrific, a few good laugh-out-loud moments, and inoffensive period costuming. I give it a solid B+.


Share your thoughts about Burke & Hare (2010) in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

14 Responses

  1. MoHub

    So glad you discovered this! It’s one of my favorite films but very hard to find. I think we caught it on BBC America before BBCA stopped airing actual UK content.

  2. Susan Pola

    I will eventually see this. But you gave me a few ideas on my daily movie frock tweets. Thanks.

  3. mmcquown

    John Landis. Interviewed him at a press lunch here at the Black Banana. It was for The Blues Brothers, but he gave us a preview of American Werewolf. Also got to see the Blues Brothers live that same week. Landis always makes me think of a very wired college professor. I will certainly seek out Burke and Hare. Better to get them before they get me.

  4. CatnipTARDIS

    I suspect that’s a spencer, but it obviously was not made for that dress (or actress). The neckline is a bit widely cut though, so it wouldn’t cover up much of any exposed skin. Maybe it used to be an open front robe that’s been altered? *shrug*

    • Sarah Lorraine

      That was basically my reaction: that’s weird *shrug*

      It’s the shoulder weirdness that is making me go all tilty-head.

  5. Alys Mackyntoich

    *falls to knees before this remarkable find* We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!

  6. Black Tulip

    This reminded me to look up the play “The Doctor and the Devils” which we studied at school. (This is what happens when you go to school near Edinburgh!)

    It was made into a film in 1985. I feel it’s only fair to warn you – top cast, seriously WTF hair.

  7. LE

    One thing I liked was that they used the clothes of two main couples to show their upward mobility. Kill someone for money? Get a fancy suit! Help your husband kill a bunch of people for money? Get a super fancy dress and slightly over the top facilitator!

  8. G Read

    I’m THE extra in this movie sitting on the second row .between Jessica Hynes and Simon Peggs shoulder YOU CAN JUST SEE ME in the 6th photo down Andy Serkis Jessica Hynes and Simon Pegg