Death Defying Acts

Death Defying Acts

Gillian Armstrong (2007)

PG Certificate


Our Score
At first glance, Death Defying Acts seems a fairly conventional romantic drama about a scheming music-hall psychic (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce), the target of one of her cons. But it becomes something darker in the hands of Australian director Gillian Armstrong (Charlotte Gray), who sets the story in Edinburgh in 1926, during Houdini's world tour. The escapologist is an international celebrity and a showbiz trickster in his own right, but he's also consumed by grief over the death of his mother, and offers a big reward to anyone who can contact her from beyond the grave. When Mary McGarvie (Zeta-Jones) and her daughter (Atonement's Saoirse Ronan) take up the challenge, Houdini develops an attraction for Mary, who it turns out bears a strong resemblance to his mother. The historic Edinburgh backdrop to Armstrong's film sometimes looks like a theatre set, though that seems curiously apt for a tale about deception and illusion. A more serious flaw is the lack of chemistry between the two stars. However, the mix of darkness and light, life and death, and fact and fiction, marks it out as an unusual and intriguing period piece.


Renowned escapologist Harry Houdini embarks on a tour of Scotland, where a con woman claims she is a psychic and will contact his dead mother in return for a $10,000 reward. However, things take an unexpected turn when Houdini begins a passionate affair with the fraudster. Period drama, with Guy Pearce, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Timothy Spall and Saoirse Ronan.

Cast & Crew

Harry Houdini Guy Pearce
Mary McGarvie Catherine Zeta-Jones
Mr Sugarman Timothy Spall
Benji Saoirse Ronan
Rose Frankey Martyn
Leith Romeo Malcolm Shields
Leith Romeo's wife Leni Harper
Mr Robertson Ralph Riach
Flower-stall seller Olivia Darnley
Director Gillian Armstrong
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Other Information

Language: EnglishColourTheatrical distributor: Lions Gate UK LtdGuidance: Edited for languageAvailable on: DVDReleased on: 8 Aug 2008