Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd hit the big screen in 2007, courtesy of artist, director and David Cameron’s friend Tim Burton.

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In one of the great shock casting decisions of the 21st century, Burton cast Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter as the leads; the murderous barber Sweeney Todd and his doting pie-chef Mrs. Lovett. In fairness to Burton, his gothic fixations are perfectly suited to this macabre musical – which is more than can be said for his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Still, one can’t help but wish he’d hired better singers, rather than his gothy-looking friends and family.

Their vocal limitations are compensated by their acting abilities; Depp is sufficiently broody, with a constant look of disinterest in his eyes. Having famously channelled Keith Richards in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, here he imitates David Bowie in his vocal performance – effectively changing his name to Zweeney Todd. Let’s hope this habit of impersonating British rock stars stops before the Mad Hatter starts talking like Ringo Starr.

007SDB_Alan_Rickman_008Carter impresses as Mrs. Lovett, the film’s true central character; think Nancy from Oliver! except, y’know, a goth. She’s the closest the film has to an emotional anchor, through her touching relationship with the young Toby (Ed Sanders) and her doomed relationship with the vengeful Todd – who she keeps calling Mr. T, invoking the strange but attractive idea that Mr. T should be in a Victorian-themed musical. “I pity the gruel!”

She is joined by her Harry Potter co-stars Ratboy and Oilman (Timothy Spall and Alan Rickman), while Sacha Baron Cohen reprises his camp foreigner role from… well, from everything. The cod cockneys are all pretty grating, but fortunately none of them last long – just when you thought going to the barber’s couldn’t get any more painful, Edward Razorhands shows up with a flash of his blade and a spray of bright red blood; there are more slit throats than you’ve had hot pies. But at least he doesn’t try to talk to you about football.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is like Les Miserables as directed by Tobe (rather than Tom) Hooper. Burton’s spooky design is captivating, boasting the scariest chair since Mastermind – and I don’t mean John Humphrys. But on top of some poorly rendered digital backdrops, Burton’s obsession with backcombed hair and fingerless gloves does rather drain Sondheim’s musical of its satire. Although the entire cast of Harry Potter is clearly having fun, one hopes for something meatier.

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