It’s the jokes that are dead and buried

Film

BURKE AND HARE
Cert: 15

SIMON Pegg and Andy Serkis play the titular Irish murderers living in 1820s Edinburgh in this disappointing send-up of one of that century’s great social scandals. Out-of-work immigrants who spot a niche in the market supplying bodies to Edinburgh’s world-renowned physicians, they move into the murder business with Tom Wilkinson’s pioneering anatomist readily paying for their “wares” on a no-questions-asked basis.

As they become wealthy on their trade, Pegg’s lovestruck Burke becomes sponsor of an all-female production of Macbeth produced by prostitute and aspiring luvvie Ginny (Isla Fisher, accent all over the place).

The writers – whose previous form includes the recent, stupendously dim St Trinian’s films – seem to have forgotten that for comedy you need witty gags and punchlines more than you need a general air of muddled slapstick. Sadly good jokes are as thin on the ground as genuine Scottish accents – or even, for crying out loud, Scottish actors.

The script leaves little for Pegg to work with, though Serkis at least manages to generate some villainous charisma. Paul Whitehouse, Stephen Merchant and Bill Bailey crop up here and there, while Ronnie Corbett is excruciating as the blustering leader of a tin-pot militia.

At least the knotted, filthy streets and closes of Edinburgh’s Old Town look suitably grim, and there’s the odd gory visual gag to remind us that director John Landis – he of An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video – once knew his way around an entertaining horror film.

But this film is a largely witless and listless affair and, when you think of the talents of those involved and the immense potential of the story and its atmospheric location, is less – much, much less – than the sum of its parts.

Timothy Barber


THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Cert: 15

HERE’S one of the year’s sweetest cinematic surprises of the year, a look at modern family life that deftly avoids the novelty cul de sacs of its premise – a family with two lesbian mums – and instead turns out to be a very smart comedy.

Julianne Moore [below] and Annette Bening are Jules and Nic, a couple living in idyllic Southern California with their two kids, both conceived from the same anonymous sperm donor. The most unusual thing about this family is not the same-sex parent set-up but just how functional it is.

Still, there’s trouble ahead when “Dad” – a slacker called Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo – shows up. There’s nothing sinister about Paul himself; he’s a likeable, laidback owner of an organic restaurant, but his appearance upsets the equilibrium, as his expanding presence within the family brings out insecurities and latent problems, particulary on the part of Bening’s Nic.

Thankfully, this isn’t attempting to constitute any kind of hard look at uncomfortable issues or prejudices surrounding same-sex marriage and parenthood – the film seems to exist in a sunny middle-class utopia. Instead, it’s about every kind of family and universal problems of love and parenting, which is note-perfect in its writing, directing and performances. A refreshing, intelligent, and very funny film.

Rhys Griffiths

Theatre

WHEN WE ARE MARRIED
Garrick Theatre

THERE’S much to celebrate in this deliciously enjoyable production of JB Priestley’s 1938 play, but at Maureen Lipman’s stupendous comic timing and poise one simply has to marvel. In a very strong ensemble cast, her performance as a mean-spirited, hen-pecking battleaxe of a wife is eye-wateringly funny – even her glasses seem to flash with malevolence as she sneers acid put-downs at her meek husband Herbert Soppitt (Sam Kelly). When the tables turn and Herbert stages a fightback, the audience readily cheers him on.

The applause begun before an actor had spoken a word on Wednesday night – as the curtain rose on a truly sumptuous set recreating the grand drawing room of an Edwardian country house. The domicile in question is in Yorkshire in 1908, where three couples, all married on the same day, have gathered to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversaries. These moneyed members of the industrial middle classes, cornerstones of local society and respected church elders, have their smug complacency pricked when it’s discovered that the cleric who married them wasn’t qualified, and they’ve never been officially married.

Inevitably chaos ensues, relationships get re-evaluated – hence Herbert Soppitt’s triumphant revolt – and egos not so much pricked as pulverised. There’s not a dull moment nor a weak performance – Roy Hudd’s drunkenly befuddled photographer and Jodie McNee’s uncouth maid are especially enjoyable – in this perfectly lovely, big-hearted show.

Timothy Barber