Gore, warped humour, melodrama and singing (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street reviewed)


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (USA/UK, 2007)

Seen: Friday, 24th April 2009 (DVD, repeat viewing)
Runtime: 116′
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener, Ed Sanders
Production House: DreamWorks Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures
Plot: (from imdb)

The infamous story of Benjamin Barker, a.k.a Sweeney Todd, who sets up a barber shop down in London which is the basis for a sinister partnership with his fellow tenant, Mrs. Lovett. Based on the hit Broadway musical.

Scene From The Film

Impressions In Short
I liked it better when I saw it the first time in the cinema, but I still think it’s fab :)

More About the Film
The first time I saw it, I found it a lot more funny - though maybe that was partly the effect of watching it with Kin and Andreja ;) When watching it alone on DVD, it was the melodramatic side of it that stood out more to me (though the comedy was still there of course).
It’s a bit like Bollywood in that it’s just so bigger than life and so melodramatic and I’ve always found that Bollywood watches better on the big screen with an audience, so maybe that’s part of the issue here.
Slightly perversely perhaps, this is yet another film that makes me nostalgic about London ;) I mean I know that’s a little odd considering the opening song has lyrics like:

There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren’t worth what a pig could spit
and it goes by the name of London.

But funnily enough, that’s how it was intended. Steven Sondheim himself called the original musical “his love letter to England”:

As you probably know, it was a big flop in London. In London, critics hated it, which was ironic, because it was sort of my love letter to England. I?m serious. I?ve always been an Anglophile, and they didn?t like it

The film certainly does capture something real about London, even though it’s not exactly a very true to life representation of it ;) Come to think of it, the British class system is very well presented in the film. When I saw clips of the Broadway musical on youtube it seemed very wrong for Sweeney and Mrs Lovett to be singing in American accents rather than cockney ones as they do in the film. It really makes a huge difference to the setting.
The characters are fantastic. Each one is very distinct and the combination of them together just, well, works. Every character in the film is perverse in a different way - apart from the two lovers, who are pure. But even that is an important ingredient and in some ways makes things even funnier. I love the bizarre relationships between all of them.
Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett are a classic. She loves him so much and he just kind of tolerates her. The only time she excites him is when she proposes to bake meat pies out of the people he kills. When Depp sings “Mrs Lovett, how I’ve ever lived without you all these years I’ll never know” in that song I get goose bumps lol
Mrs Lovett and Toby is such an odd one as well. I guess in a way it’s a sort of romance - even though he’s just a little boy, it could have worked out between them if she wasn’t so obsessed with Sweeney ;) And it’s brilliantly played - Helena Bonham-Carter and Ed Sanders really have chemistry ;) It’s also fun seeing a part of a very young boy, who is so warped - not common that.
Judge Turpin is quite a strange character as well. On the one hand he’s sort of pure evil (there’s a thread on imdb where people are choosing the character they think is most evil and most are saying Judge Turpin). But on the other, he’s not quite. He’s very vulnerable and there’s quite a bit of guilt there. I remember Tim Burton saying something like that about Alan Rickman - that even though he can easily produce this kind of “perverse air” where you don’t even want to know what he’s thinking, he has a lot of vulnerability at the same time. And that’s exactly what Judge Turpin is. I love the Poor Thing song (the scene I embedded) because it really showcases this. When the judge is down there with the flowers he’s very vulnerable. He’s out there professing his love and getting totally rejected day after day. And yet this same person goes on to do such dark things. I really like the way Alan Rickman plays all that out :) This is probably my favourite of his villains actually.
Sacha Baron Cohen is great of course. Comically, he’s just perfect, as one would expect. Perhaps more surprisingly he’s great on the melodrama too.
I love the beggar woman. Laura Michelle Kelly is the one person in the cast who actually has a lot of experience with stage musicals. I remember her saying she had a lot of fun when she got directions to sing as badly as possible lol She works brilliantly in that part.
Jayne Wisener as Johanna is the quintessential beauty and is vulnerable and pure, the way she should be. I think that’s the only other cast member who has singing experience and you can really hear it in the one song she sings, but that’s kind of appropriate for her part too :)
I didn’t like Jamie Campbell Bower that much the second time round. He’s very well cast, but I kind of wanted him to exaggerate the “being in love” thing even more than he did - especially in the songs.
I don’t like Timothy Spall as The Beadle at all though *sigh* He’s a great actor, but I think he was miscast in this. Apparently in the original musical The Beadle is a bit of a dandy, which would work a lot better and make much more sense (he’d naturally be interested in barbers and stuff like that). Unfortunately, Timothy Spall just doesn’t have the looks of a dandy. So that didn’t give him much to create the character on cause it’s a pretty small part and his only other defining characteristics are that he’s evil and cruel :]

Yes, though I think you need to have a slightly warped sense of humour (maybe not necessarily as warped as mine, Kin’s and Andreja’s, but it needs to be a little warped all the same ;) ).
You might want to avoid it if you have some sort of particular hatred for melodrama (personally, I think the main problem with melodrama is that it’s very difficult to do well, but this is one of those rare films where it actually *is* done well IMO). Also, this film probably isn’t the best of ideas if you don’t like seeing blood on screen *grin* Although the gore content isn’t as graphic as some reviews would have you believe IMO.

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