WILLIAM BURKE (Simon Pegg) and WILLIAM HARE (Andy Serkis) are scratching out a living in 1820s Edinburgh. After yet another failed business venture, they return to Hare’s lodging house to find that a tenant has suddenly died on rent day. As the boys decide how to dispose of the body over a drink, they discover that a corpse can fetch a hefty price. Edinburgh is the centre of the medical world and the city’s doctors are crying out for cadavers for their anatomical demonstrations. Not least, fierce rivals progressive DR. KNOX (Tom Wilkinson) and traditionalist DR. MONRO (Tim Curry). When KNOX is paid a visit by BURKE & HARE with a fresh corpse he urges them to bring him any more ‘unfortunates’ they may stumble upon. Entrepreneurial HARE is quick to realize they’ve hit on a lucrative venture and the pair begin to arrange a series of deadly ‘accidents’. Initially dodged by a guilty conscience, BURKE changes his tune after meeting GINNY (Isla Fisher), a beautiful and spirited actress who’s seeking financial backing for her new play – an all female production of Macbeth. Driven on by the promise of romance, Burke agrees to step up their operation; branching out into “ethical” murder. And when the King announces that he will award the prestigious Royal Seal and a handsome cash prize to whomever makes the greatest advance in the field of medicine the professional rivalry between KNOX and MONRO intensifies, creating an ever greater demand for bodies. KNOX needs extra cadavers for his groundbreaking photographic map of the human body and in a series of hilarious comic misadventures BURKE & HARE begin to secure him a steady stream of bodies and the cash starts rolling in. Pressure on the boys builds as local crime lord DANNY MCTAVISH (David Hayman) demands a cut of their takings and the authorities start to close in, led by the over-zealous Captain of the Militia, MCLINTOCH (Ronnie Corbett). So HARE hatches a new plan, inspired by his equally conniving wife LUCKY (JESSICA HYNES). They just need a bit more money then they can go legit and open a funeral parlour where the bodies will come to them! But when the prolific MCTAVISH ends up on KNOX’s slab, he’s arrested and immediately implicates BURKE & HARE as his suppliers. BURKE, HARE, GINNY and LUCKY sweat it out in the cells as a crowd gathers baying for their blood. In a wild, but romantic gesture, BURKE volunteers to confess and take the rap to save his friend and the love of his life, GINNY. As the hangman’s noose goes around his neck, our hero smiles bravely and when asked for his final words, pronounces “I did it for love.”
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Ratings and Reviews
Critics Consensus: Marked by timid scares and flat-footed humor, Burke and Hare is a missed opportunity for its talented cast and a disappointing return for director John Landis.