Comedy, 91 Minutes, 2010
Peggapalooza! continues with a true story about medicine and murder in 1828. Edinburgh, Scotland, is the premier center for anatomical study in the world and has a voracious appetite for fresh cadavers. The head of the university (Tim Curry [IMDB]) has leveraged his political clout to have all legal cadavers be sent to him rather than his chief rival, Robert Knox (Tom Wilkinson [IMDB]).
When his elderly lodger dies, Mr. Hare (Andy Serkis [IMDB]) enlists the aid of his partner, Mr. Burke (Simon Pegg [IMDB]), to help dispose of the body. After some misadventures, they learn of Dr. Knox’s dilemma and make a deal. It becomes clear to them that if they could, somehow, ensure a steady stream of bodies that their financial problems would be solved.
It is a “true story”, but in the hollywood sense: it takes an event that many people may have heard about, but know none of the details, and does… whatever the hell it likes. Characters and circumstances are changed or created from whole cloth at whim. The tone is lightened and the consequences softened.
Burke is remolded as a good-natured softie trying to win the affection of Ginny, a former prostitute turned actress (Isla Fisher [IMDB]) desperate to fund her all-female production of “MacBeth”. Hare thinks of himself as the brains of the operation, because his wife (Pegg’s partner on Spaced, Jessica Hynes [IMDB]) allows him to. “Sure,” the movie seems to be saying, “they killed 16 people, but they’re not bad guys!”
The story is bright and fast-paced, contrasting well with the darkness of the events. Both Pegg and the often overlooked Serkis present charming rogues, easily sympathized with. The supporting cast is very strong, especially Wilkinson and Curry. They perfectly project the kind of ego-driven smugness that would ignore the deaths of dozens if it served their purposes.
Unfortunately the film has a notable problem with focus. More time is spent on the problems getting Ginny’s play up and running and Dr. Knox’s research into documenting human anatomy than with Burke and Hare. It’s almost as if the movie didn’t want the audience to focus on the large number of brutal murders!
Which summarizes the issues nicely. This is a fun movie. It’s well-acted and well-produced. It also glorifies unequivocally horrible people. It tests the cliché, “time heals all wounds.” Will there be, perhaps a hundred years from now, a wacky comedy painting Charles Manson as a charming, naive bumbler who “did it all for love”?