Burke & Hare (2010 film)

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Burke & Hare
Burke and Hare.png
UK release poster
Directed by John Landis
Produced by Barnaby Thompson
Nigel Green
James Spring
Paul Brett
Tim Smith
Screenplay by Piers Ashworth
Nick Moorcroft
Starring Simon Pegg
Andy Serkis
Isla Fisher
Tom Wilkinson
Tim Curry
Music by Joby Talbot
Cinematography John Mathieson
Edited by Mark Everson
Distributed by Entertainment Film Distributors (UK)
IFC Films (US)
Release dates
  • 29 October 2010 (2010-10-29)
Running time 91 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $10 million[citation needed]
Box office $4,349,187[2]

Burke & Hare is a 2010 British black comedy film, loosely based on the Burke and Hare murders. Directed by John Landis, the film stars Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as William Burke and William Hare respectively. It was Landis's first feature film release in 12 years, the last being 1998's Susan's Plan. The film was released in the United Kingdom on 29 October 2010.[3]


The film opens in Edinburgh with a narration by Angus the Hangman, telling of how the corpses of those hanged by himself are transported to Dr. Robert Knox to dissect, while his rival Dr. Alexander Monro, who wants Knox's job, is left to amputate body parts of living people. Just then, Monro's assistant Charles Darwin arrives with a forged letter stating that dead bodies must be sent to Monro. Angus is then left to tell Knox's assistant, Patterson, that the bodies are now being given to Monro. Patterson delivers the message to Knox.

The film then switches to William Burke and William Hare, two immigrants from Ireland, attempting to sell cheese mould which they state is growing moss. When they are found out, they flee back to an Inn owned by Hare's wife Lucky, who states that one of their lodgers has died. Burke and Hare decide to transport the corpse to Knox. They are forced to break the corpse's spine in order to fit inside the barrel. While on the way to Knox's house, they stop at a pub and while there, a young woman, Helen McDougal (under the name Ginny Hawkins), a former prostitute, attempts to attract the attention of everyone in the bar by performing an excerpt from the William Shakespeare play Macbeth. While everyone else in the pub take no notice, Burke begins talking to Ginny and asks her why she did so. Ginny explains that it was her ambition to become an actress. While Burke and Ginny have a drink together, Hare tells Burke that they had better set off to Knox's castle.

Burke and Hare arrive at Knox's house and present the now mangled corpse to Knox. Knox then agrees that if the pair bring him two bodies a week for dissection, he will pay them a large amount of money. While Burke sees this as his chance to help Ginny's ambition of becoming an actress, Hare is content on using the money to open a funeral parlour. When Burke and Hare return to the Inn, they find Lucky drunk and nearly unconscious. Lucky explains why she is in that state as it is Joseph, another lodger at the Inn, is near death. Burke and Hare see this as their chance to make a start, before Joseph can die himself they suffocate him and take his body to Knox, who gives them both a large amount of money.

Burke and Hare share out the money, and Burke goes to find Ginny. Burke tells Ginny the good news, and she hugs him and allows him to take her home, while Hare goes to the bar where he meets Fergus, the suffering henchman of villain Danny McTavish. Fergus explains that McTavish is using him to cheat at games of gambling and taking all the money for himself while not sharing it with Fergus. Hare explains that he has to transport two bodies a week to Knox and receives a lot of money for it. Fergus tells this to McTavish.

Later, while Burke is leaving the bar after telling Ginny the good news, he is bundled into a horse carriage along with an already captured Hare, and comes face to face with McTavish and Fergus. McTavish explains that if Burke and Hare want to be kept alive, they must pay him half of the money they earn from Knox, and in exchange McTavish will provide them with protection. With their only option to agree, Burke and Hare are flung from the carriage while it is going through a wood. As Burke and Hare make their way back to the Inn, they begin coming up with plans of whom to kill each week.

As more and more people turn up dead, Lucky begins to get suspicious, as does the local law enforcement led by Capt Tom McLintock, who visits Lord Harrington and William Wordsworth and informs them. Harrington and Wordsworth give McLintock permission to hunt down the criminals and have them hanged.

Following this, Hare is once again kidnapped by McTavish, who orders both he and Fergus to hand over their money for protection. While Hare and Fergus look at each other, the scene snaps to the dissecting theatre, where McTavish's corpse turns up for Knox to dissect. This causes outrage, and after Ginny's show has a successful opening night, Burke and Ginny are captured by McLintock while about to make love while Hare and Lucky are captured while having sex. All of them are locked in different cells, and are informed that if one of them admits to the murders, the others will go free. Burke agrees to do so on one condition, that he is put in the same cell as Ginny so they can finally make love.

The following day, Burke awaits his hanging at the gallows. Angus announces that if Burke has any last words he should say them now. Burke then states "Only this", before turning to look at Ginny in the crowd, and states "I did it for love", before he is hanged.

The film ends by relating the fates of all the characters in the story, concluding with the skeleton of William Burke displayed at the present-day Anatomical Museum of Scotland at the Medical School.[4]




Burke & Hare was developed by Ealing Studios, who had been known for producing acclaimed black comedy films such as Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers. John Landis read the screenplay, which piqued his interest in making the film. Landis wanted the film to be similar in style to Ealing's black comedies, as well as to the films of Laurel and Hardy, describing the portrayal of Burke and Hare in this film as an "evil Laurel and Hardy".[5]


David Tennant was originally cast in the role of William Hare, but left the production before principal photography began; he was replaced by Andy Serkis.[6][7]

Many cast members of the sitcom Spaced appear, including Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes, Bill Bailey, Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley.

Three actors from the John Landis film An American Werewolf In London appear; Jenny Agutter, David Schofield and John Woodvine.


Filming took place around Edinburgh[8] with some scenes also being shot in Stirling, London and at Knole in Kent,[9] and also at Ealing Studios. The script was written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft, who previously wrote St. Trinian's, also for Ealing, which was the highest grossing British independent film of the last 10 years.

Landis stated:

The first official trailer for the film was released on 5 October 2010.[11] It was shown in some UK cinemas before Paranormal Activity 2.

It was released on 29 October 2010.[3]


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 33% of 55 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 4.8/10.[12] Metacritic rated it 46/100 based on 10 reviews.[13] Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club rated it B and called it a "minor but welcome return" for Landis.[14] Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times described it as "a ghoulish comedy" not for nitpickers.[15] Charles Gant of Variety called it an "amiable, creaky comedy" that represents "a step back from the brink."[16] Ray Bennett of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that it is "unpleasant drivel that tries to make fun out of murder."[17]


  1. ^ "BURKE & HARE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 19 October 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "Burke and Hare". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Harrod, Horatia (4 October 2010). "Burke and Hare: behind the scenes". Telegraph (London). Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  4. ^ url=http://www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk/museum/
  5. ^ John Landis interview, Burke & Hare DVD, IFC Films, 2011
  6. ^ Mack, Andrew (11 October 2009). "David Tennant joins Simon Pegg in John Landis' 'Burke and Hare'". Twitch Film. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  7. ^ Warmouth, Brian (20 January 2010). "Andy Serkis Replaces David Tennant In 'Burke And Hare,' According To Star Simon Pegg's Twitter Feed". MTV News. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  8. ^ "Landis Talks 'Burke & Hare' Horror, New Image". Bloody-disgusting.com. 15 July 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2012. 
  9. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Burke & Hare Film Focus". 
  10. ^ Solomons, Jason (16 August 2009). "Interview with the UK ''Guardian''". London: Guardian. Retrieved 19 January 2012. 
  11. ^ "Official Trailer for 'Burke & Hare'". Obsessedwithfilm.com. 5 October 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2012. 
  12. ^ "Burke and Hare". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  13. ^ "Critic Reviews for Burke and Hare at Metacritic". Metacritic.com. Retrieved 19 January 2012. 
  14. ^ Rabin (8 September 2011). "Burke & Hare". The A.V. Club. 
  15. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (8 September 2011). "Burke and Hare (2010)". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  16. ^ Gant, Charles (26 October 2010). "Review: ‘Burke & Hare’". Variety. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  17. ^ Bennett, Ray (28 October 2010). "Burke and Hare: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 

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