This is just the best British comedy I have seen in ages where the gags are so dark that you find yourself laughing when you know you really should not, and that is what makes it great.
Packed with very familiar faces, the film is a black comedy based on the exploits and mishaps of two 19th century con-men/businessmen who turn to snatching the recently departed, grave robbing, and even killing, to supply cadavers to the medical fraternity in Edinburgh, then the centre of medical learning, but who were very short of fresh bodies.
Now apparently William Burke and William Hare, two Irish guys from Donegal, did actually move to Edinburgh and take up this questionable business venture of robbing bodies and killing people. It was a stroke of genius to loosely base a film on this true story, injecting some gags, blunders, and some great acting to create a comedy you will want to see again and again.
Burke (Simon Pegg ) and Hare (Andy Serkis ) are down on their luck, with barely enough to scrape together, and it is not just they who are suffering, no Hare’s wife Lucky (Jessica Hynes ) has fallen off the wagon, again, deftly swigging back whiskey to blot out the hopelessness of poverty. However, an opportunity arises when the duo overhear that Dr Knox (Tom Wilkinson ) is looking for fresh bodies, not ‘rotters’, for his medical studies and when a number of lodgers die they soon realise that providing cadavers can be quite lucrative.
Not ready to turn to killing, just yet, they decide to ‘assist’ in people’s deaths, afterall Edinburgh is a dangerous city, but this turns out to be more difficult then they first thought. A push/fall down a stairs proves to have little effect on a drunkard, a falling tree sends a carriage into the sea rather than into their greedy hands, and well, at least one fella had the decency to have a heart attack from sheer fright.
Despite blunder after hilarious blunder the pair begin to earn some decent money and attract some attention, both wanted and unwanted. Burke takes a fancy to local aspiring actress Ginny (Isla Fisher ) and finances her play, but this requires more money and therefore more bodies. Meanwhile the influx of fresh bodies helps Dr Knox complete his ambitious studies, the local bad guys want a piece of the action, the local militia get more suspicious, and Burke and Hare wind up in a whole lot of trouble.