Actors Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis are obviously quite comfortable around the dark and grisly, with Pegg starring in “Shaun of the Dead” and Serkis most famously as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. They seem to have gravitated towards the same sort of material again this time. Currently filming in Edinburgh and London, the pair are taking on the roles of the infamous serial killers Burke and Hare.
The true story is of two Irish immigrants who built a business around providing cadavers to Edinburgh University from 1827-28. The only problem was that the bodies were much healthier before Burke and Hare delivered them to the university. William Burke and William Hare would often entice strangers off the street, ply them with alcohol and then brutally suffocate and kill them. They would then deliver the bodies to Dr. Robert Knox at Surgeon’s Square at Edinburgh University for use in anatomy classes. They were aided in their crimes by Burke’s mistress, Helen M’Dougal, and Hare’s wife, Margaret Laird. They claimed 17 victims before they were finally caught. Due to the lack of concrete evidence, Hare was offered a deal of immunity if he testified against Burke. He accepted and Burke was found guilty and eventually hanged in 1829.
Sounds like a right laugh-a-minute, doesn’t it? It’s being touted as a black comedy, but even I can’t see a glimmer of the “funnies” coming out of this unless they begin changing the whole story. I love Simon Pegg in pretty much anything he does, but having such a horrible and TRUE story as the basis for a comedy just seems in bad taste, and I fear, the general movie-going public will feel the same way. I don’t deny for a second that if they played this film straight, Pegg and Serkis could pull off the roles brilliantly and easily. Anyone who has seen Serkis in his portrayal of Moors murderer Ian Brady in his recent TV drama “Longford” will understand that.
It is early days in the production, so it may begin to take a more serious tone as the filming goes on. What is also strangely fascinating is that Hollywood legend John Landis is in the director’s chair for this one. I know he has a penchant for the macabre, but this choice seems a little left-field. The cast, in addition to Pegg and Serkis, gives evidence that they are taking the film in a lighter, more comedic direction: Isla Fisher is playing Burke’s mistress; and Pegg’s former “Spaced” co-star Jessica Hynes is playing Hare’s wife. Also appearing in the film is Tom Wilkinson, Bill Bailey, Hugh Bonneville, Reece Shearsmith and Tim Curry. With the exception of Wilkinson, that is like reading a who’s who of past and present comedy legends.
Pegg is also keeping followers updated on the film’s progress through his own Twitter feed, only recently posting an image of himself with Tim Curry on the set (shown below). He also recently wrote about his co-star Andy Serkis: “Really enjoying working with Andy Serkis. Genuinely lovely person and a fine, fine actor. Great watching him work.”
“Burke and Hare” is due for release later this year.
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Follow Ben Fowler on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Localboy99