Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Starring Johnny Depp. Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman.
Running Time: 119 mins
Rated: Rated MA 15 + (Strong bloody violence).
The versatile Johnny Depp stars as Benjamin Barker, a man unjustly imprisoned for 15 years on the other side of the world, who escapes back to London with a vow of revenge, opposite Helena Bonham Carter as his obsessively devoted accomplice, Mrs. Nellie Lovett.
Adopting the guise of Sweeney Todd, Barker returns to his old barber shop above Mrs. Lovett's pie-making premises, and sets his sights on Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) who, with help from his nefarious henchman Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall), shipped him off on a trumped-up charge in order to steal his wife, Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly), and his baby daughter from him.

Mrs. Lovett tells Todd that his wife poisoned herself after Judge Turpin took advantage of her. But when a rival barber, the flamboyant Italian Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen), threatens to expose Sweeney's real identity, Todd kills him by cutting his throat. Not knowing what to do with the body, Mrs. Lovett sees this crisis as a potential solution to her ailing business - and suggests using human flesh as the filling for her pies.

Sweeney discovers that the Judge has turned his amorous affections towards Johanna (Jayne Wisener), Sweeney's now teenaged daughter, who has become Turpin's ward. Imprisoned in his house, Johanna is noticed one day by Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower), the young sailor who rescued Sweeney from the sea. Hopelessly in love, Anthony vows to rescue Johanna and marry her himself.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Lovett's pies soon become the talk of London, and as business booms, she dreams of respectability and a life at the seaside with Sweeney as her husband and her young charge, Pirelli's former assistant Toby (Edward Sanders), alongside as her adopted son.

But Sweeney has only revenge on his mind - to the detriment of anyone or anything else.

For readers unfamiliar with the Stephen Sondheim opera, it is essential you know this as it belongs to the horror genre.

With Tim Burton directing we are not spared any violence, gore or shocking detail. Burton's body of work is equally dark.

That said if you can endure, or even like, the horror genre, this is as stylish as it gets. Sondheim's mastery as lyrist and composer are released to great effect here. While the singing is not as good as some of us may have heard, the acting is excellent.

Indeed Johnny Depp confirms his status as the most creative actor alive today which a menacing turn as the revengeful Sweeny. His breathy singing fits the role.

Alan Richman recitative-style for Judge Turpin may not do justice to the musical score, but his presence, carriage and intensity embody evil itself.

The big surprise is Helena Bonham Carter. Her Mrs Lovett is outstanding. On the stage a more mature artist is usually cast in this very demanding role. Opera Australia's Judi Connelli was the best Mrs Lovett I have ever seen, but Burton's decision to cast a younger woman enables the sexual attraction of Mrs Lovett for Todd to be believable. And though Bonham Carter is not a great singer, she entirely sells us a character that can be tender, desperate, funny and totally terrifying.

Sacha Baron plays Pirelli and it's hard for me to think that Borat had not taken a tour of Fleet Street.

On the surface of things the values of Sweeney Todd are dreadful and death filled - one unsuspecting person after another murdered and minced up in a revengeful blood lust. In the end, however, the story demonstrates how futile and ultimately destructive retribution is.

The cost for revenge is always too high, for everyone.

Sweeney Todd recently won A Golden Glove for Best Film the musical or comedy genre. The violence is at the same time gross and cartoonish, the production design as dark as the story. But given that it neither glamorises nor moralises the dysfunction it portrays, then, adults who know what to expect can find this is a horror film of the highest standard.

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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