Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Dir. Tim Burton
Premiered December 3, 2007

This is going to sound weird, but this is the hardest review I’ve had to write for this project. And that’s because while Sweeney Todd has a lot going on, at least in terms of its creation, it also leaves little impact. So forgive me if this comes off as a little perfunctory and dry.

Sweeney Todd was originally a character from an early Victorian penny dreadful, which was adapted several times over in theater and film before being turned into a Broadway musical in 1979 by Stephen Sondheim, which itself was adapted by Tim Burton into this film. I know Tim Burton gets shit for essentially digging himself deeper and deeper into his own firmly-established aesthetic, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s his own doing or the studio’s. But I digress.

Sometime in the 1820s, London barber Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) is sent to Australia for a crime he didn’t commit, a sequence of events orchestrated by the vile Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Twenty years later, Barker returns to London with his young sailor companion Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower) seeking revenge under the pseudonym Sweeney Todd. Returning to his abandoned shop, he learns from his downstairs neighbor Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a maker of dubious meat pies, that his beloved wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) was raped by Turpin and then poisoned herself, and that their daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) has since become Turpin’s ward.

As it happens, Anthony sees Johanna in Turpin’s window and falls in love with her at first sight, attracting Turpin’s fury but emboldening Anthony to rescue her. And when a former apprentice of Barker’s (Sacha Baron Cohen) tries to blackmail Todd, Todd slashes his throat, his corpse becoming the latest ingredient in Mrs. Lovett’s pies– launching yet another business scheme.

What can I say about this film? I liked it enough. It had a clever story, lots of darkly humorous moments, a fun cast. It reminded me of the Coen Brothers in certain ways. The emotional connections may seem a little silly today, but it’s all appropriately Victorian. It’s Sondheim, so the songs are all good; they’re not exactly standalone hits, but not everything can be West Side Story. If you like musicals and you aren’t totally burnt out on Tim Burton’s possibly studio-imposed schtick, check it out. I ranked it 49th out of all the films I watched for this project (between Son of Rambow and Dan in Real Life), and that seems about right.

Additional Notes
I’d like to give thanks to Minnie, who hates musicals and suffered through this with me, but didn’t find it terribly bothersome. For what it’s worth though, actual fans of the musical seem to utterly hate this movie, claiming it removes a whole lot of good music and the majority of the play’s humor and pacing and doesn’t totally make sense.

How Did It Do?
Theater fans’ intense reservations about the film was not reflected by audiences or critics, as Sweeney Todd grossed $152.5 million against a $50 million budget and earned a “certified fresh” 87% rating on RottenTomatoes. At the risk of making excuses for consensus opinions I disagree with, one can’t help but recall the similar response to Hairspray during that past July, the effusive celebration over the return of “unapologetic musicals.” But then again, I found it alright, so whatever.

The film won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo) and was additionally nominated for Best Actor (Johnny Depp) and Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood).

Next Time: I Am Legend