Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Based on the Broadway musical of the 1980’s, Tim Burton, who is certainly one of the more cracked personalities, works again with his personal muse Johnny Depp in the film ‘Sweeny Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’.  A rather gory serial killing, cannibalistic revenge story featuring show tunes.  Yep, that sounds just about right.  And though the mix of genres is a bit bizarre, to say the least, this story which is approaching thirty years old is about as unique and as fresh a creative event that you’re likely to have seen, or will see in some time.

Two men of disparately different dispositions arrive via boat to the port town of London of England in the late 19th century.  Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower) as his name would indicate is bright and sunny, full of life, and hopes his future is as wide as the ocean he is about to leave.  Sweeny Todd (Depp) on the other hand is angry and grim, bitter and hostile.  He sings of a tale of a Barber who at one time was married to a beautiful woman with a beautiful baby daughter until another had decided that he wanted her for himself.  This insufferable man, one Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman-playing a bad guy, go figure) assaulted this gentle barber, a man named Benjamin Barker, created false charges against him and shipped him away to the prison island of Australia.  Benjamin Barker died the day he was sent to prison and gave birth to Sweeny Todd who escaped his captors and was found and rescued by the young sailor.  One man looking to start a life, another looking for lives to end.

As the two men embark on their respective journey’s, Sweeny travels back to where his shop once sat, which is now occupied by the rather slovenly Pie Chef Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who fills in the tragic blanks of what happened to Benjamin Barker’s wife and child in the years since he’s been gone, the child now on the verge

of womanhood living as the virtual prisoner to caddish Judge Turpin.  With the tools of his trade retrieved, the barber of Fleet Street is ready to seek out his revenge, but is advised by the calmer Mrs. Lovett to be patient allow the revenge to come to him.  Anthony Hope on the other hand has made chance eye contact with a beautiful young woman sitting by a window named Joanna (Jayne Wisener), the lost child of Benjamin Barker and the future wife, or so he hopes, of Judge Turpin.  However, even making eye contact with Joanna is a punishable crime, and though Anthony was warned of just this by a mysterious beggar woman (Laura Michelle Kelly), he does not listen and almost pays for this indiscretion with his life.  This does little, as it were, to dissuade him from his pursuit of the girl he’s convinced that he now loves.

Circumstance leads to murder sooner than planned for Sweeny Todd leading him and Mrs. Lovett to concoct a most vile scheme to get rid of the body, and subsequent bodies after that.  A young orphan boy has entered the picture as well named Toby (Edward Sanders) who has taken to Mrs. Lovett the way any child would take their mother and fears that Sweeny Todd’s mere existence is a danger to his new found mother figure.  He’s also a little curious about where all this meat is coming from for Mrs. Lovett’s hugely popular and successful meat pies.  Sweeny Todd unfortunately has now become consumed with his quest for vengeance, truly becoming the demon barber of Fleet Street.

One would be hard pressed to find an artist who is more in command of this visual medium than Tim Burton.  The gray gloomy atmosphere of 19th century London that these characters live in, enhanced by composer Steven Sondheim, exists as a character all of its own.  The outstanding set design also captures the stunning performances by the entire casts with naturally Johnny Depp leading the way, filling Sweeny Todd with just enough charm to give the character some threadbare humanity, but with a gallon of menace and hostility as we’re never far away from what Sweeny Todd is capable of.  Borat again shows that he is arguably the most dynamic performer working today in his all too brief role of the scurrilous Italian barber Perelli and young Ed Sanders was equally spectacular as the orphan Toby.

Probably more amazing was that the actors did all of their own singing work in this film and they all proved to have fine voices in performing Sondheim’s wonderful songs.  Even Alan Rickman, who perhaps has the weakest singing voice of the cast but is far too accomplished as a villain to have been ignored for the role, was even directed to create some rather harmonious melodies, despite his obvious limitations as a singer.

‘Sweeny Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ is a wonderful film and truly an experience like few others, with I suppose the possible exception of actually seeing the play performed live on Broadway.  If you only have time to see one incredibly bloody, gory, serial killing cannibalistic filmed musical this year, might I recommend you spend that spare change on seeing ‘Sweeny Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’.

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