Death Defying Acts

Brilliant biopic of the time when Houdini came to Edinburgh…and fell in love.

Release Date: 8 August 2008 (UK)

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Writer: Tony Grisoni, Brian Ward

Stars: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall

Country: USA

Language: English

Starring Catherine Zeta Jones, Guy Pearce and professional Brummie Timothy Spall this is an engaging tale of the famous illusionist Harry Houdini…though not a tremendously accurate portrayal of his belief system.

During Houdini’s tour of England, he lands up in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1926. A vibrant place where riches and poverty live side by side. Houdini arrives as a superstar, with stage entertainment in those days evoking the same sort of fervour reserved for movies nowadays. There he meets Mary McGarvie (Zeta Jones) who, with her daughter Benji manage a hand to mouth existence by working as pickpockets, stealing not just money but information to use in their stage show in which Mary reveals amazing information about members  of the audience, all gained by these methods. Both of them idolise Houdini and when they realise that he is coming to town, and what is more is offering a massive cash prize to anyone who can prove their abilities. Cynically, Mary puts her plan into action, but Sugarman (Spall), Houdini’s manager is no fool and realises that Mary and her daughter are fakers and performers only. However, he has reckoned without Mary’s feminine wiles which she deploys to devastating effect on the famous Houdini himself. The question is, can he perform one of his amazing escapes from her clutches or will he be seduced not only by her body, but by her promise to put him in contact with the spirit of his dead mother.

Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Death Defying Acts

Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Death Defying Acts

This is a great film, making full use of theEdinburghlocation and giving us a fascinating and twisted love story between to great characters in Houdini and Mary. Though some liberties are taken with the real Houdini, it doesn’t affect the movie in any way which delivers a richly layered character piece while also delving into matters beyond the grave with creditable frankness. All of the leads play their roles with great believability though the standout is Spall who rapidly becomes exasperated at his client’s infatuation with Mary, seeing right through her scam. Superbly shot and edited, this is a real gem of a movie featuring some of the best actors working today.

Highly recommended.


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