Sweeney Todd : The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

An Equal Opportunities musical; you need not be able to sing to appear in it.

Released in 2007, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 14 Feb 2008 by Scott Morris
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First things first. This is a musical. If you've only heard of this flick from the trailer then there's a fighting chance that you might not realise this, but it's chock full of the singing. Just sayin'.

In the grim, dim and distant past of Old Lahndahn Town, the corrupt Judge Turpin (Awesome Rickman) takes a fancy to a pretty young girl, who happens to already be married to a dashing young barber, Bob Barker (Johnny Depp). There's an obvious solution to this pantaloon-bulging dilemma for the Judge - have Bob arrested and shipped off to... somewhere seemingly a great deal less sunny than London, given his splendid paleness on his eventual return to Cockney City.

This corking chunk of corruption allows Judge Turpin to 'tap that', as I believe the youth of today would say, and after discarding her like a used rag he takes custody of Bob Barker's young daughter, Johanna (played by Jayne Wisener, at least once she's grown up). His intentions are less than honourable, as you'd expect by this point.

As previously mentioned (Oh Noes! Spoilerz!) Barker eventually returns, looking like an extra from Beetlejuice and swearing vengeance upon Turpin and his sidekick Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall), taking the new identity of David Bowie. Oh, sorry, that's just who he sounds like. He takes the identity of Sweeney Todd : The Demon etc etc etc. He takes up residence on Fleet Street above Mrs. Lovett's crappy pie shop, Lovett of course played by Helena Bonham Carter, also looking like an extra from Beetlejuice.

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And I'm sure you know the general form of what happens next, what with the killing and the baking into pies and so forth. Oh Noes! Spoilerz!

Now, once you get over the initial disappointment that it's not The Sweeney, and therefore won't have John Thaw and Dennis Waterman screaming round a corner in a Ford Granada, it's actually pretty enjoyable. What it is not, however, is a particularly great musical because, although they try, bless their little cotton socks, pretty much no-one involved can actually sing worth a quarter of a damn.

Depp falls back onto a third rate David Bowie impersonation, done in a way reminiscent of the Vic Reeves Club Style, and Rickman I don't think even tries to sing, opting more for a beat poetry sort of spoken word vibe. Helena fares a little better, but special anti-plaudits must go to Jayne Wisner's Johanna and Jamie Campbell Bower as her young suitor, both relative unknowns who I'd assumed going into this were hired to carry the weight of the singing but apparently not, as both have voices that could strip paint off off walls at one hundred paces.

This, it must be said, fairly major point aside, I really liked this Sweeney Todd dohickey. It's just the right side of stupid to be enjoyable, with some sharply written songs that are often very funny indeed. Despite the previous mocking for the most part the actors are kept within the limits of their vocal range, and of course there's few stronger casts imaginable than Depp, Bonham Carter and Rickman rolled up into one big Katamari Damacy-esque ball of awesomeness. There are also stellar supporting performances from Timothy Spall and Sasha Baron Cohen.

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What the cast may lack in singing ability is more than made up for in dramatic and comedic terms, so let us stop all this unhygienic quibbling. Sweeney Todd is enjoyable throughout, with tons of extraordinarily over the top, Mortal Kombat-esque bloodletting that is, I guess, the reason that this got an 18 rating here in Blighty. One could argue that given how stupidly comical the effects are that such a harsh rating isn't entirely justified, but at the same time this isn't the most kiddy friendly of flicks. Meh, I'm way past eighteen anyway, so no longer care.

It's great fun, and as long as you're down with the fact that despite its Gothic stylings and ultimately grisly subject matter it's actually a daft comedy musical then I'm sure you'll love it too. Sweeney Todd is one of those films that might not feature in many 'best of the year' lists, but may well be high up in the 'very enjoyable but ultimately forgettable' category, ala the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. And there's no scope for rancid sequels in this film, which is a bonus.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Tim Burton
Cast list:
Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd)
Helena Bonham Carter (Mrs. Lovett)
Alan Rickman (Judge Turpin)
Timothy Spall (Beadle)
Sacha Baron Cohen (Pirelli)
Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony)
Laura Michelle Kelly (Beggar Woman)
Jayne Wisener (Johanna)
Ed Sanders (Toby)