Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street


Reviewed by: Chris

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have made a lot of good films together. Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – I loved them all. Sweeney Todd displays another impressive blend of their talents. And I hated it. Let me tell you why.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a very good movie. Very cleverly done. But for all the hundreds of thousands who enjoy it, there will be some who find it nauseous, pointless, superficial, and much better left undone. In case you are likely to be one of those people, let me tell you enough about it to save you wasting your money and a couple of hours you could better spend doing something else. Like watching the rain or staring into space.

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Firstly, Sweeney Todd is a musical. This is very important, because the trailer makes a hash of telling you what it is. Is it a fairy tale? A horror story? Something weird with a song or two? No, it’s a full blown stage musical – one of those where they sing nearly all the words rather than having dialogue and songs.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good trip to the West End of London or New York’s Broadway. There’s the excitement of the legendary venue, and they will have the cream of the crop of performers who can sing extremely well, act enough to project stage presence, and dance as well, if required. By the time the show gets to the provinces, the good singers have usually been replaced with people who can yell. Not a massive problem, perhaps, if you are doing Rocky Horror or Sound of Music – shows with good singalong ditties. But if I have to focus on the raucous attempts of a second rate ‘singer’ for more than two hours, invest a second rate plot with meaning it barely deserves, and feel my wallet suffer for something that is neither art nor entertainment, then I get fidgety.

Like the similar travesty, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Sweeney Todd forces me to endure something that could be palatable in a top theatre and is execrable on film. And it gets worse: Hunchback used people who had good singing experience – Sweeney has a failed pop singer who can act. Let’s add the director’s girlfriend/spouse. She can’t sing either, but close-ups of her expressive face will help to take the heat off Johnny. Watch out for the Depp kiss. "I was being paid by my boyfriend to kiss his best friend," she told reporters.

As it’s a ‘musical’, let’s add a couple of people who really can sing and stick them in minor roles. With all the big names, we won’t see or hear them very much. It’s a minor love story, with Bonham Carter slavishly following Demon Barber Johnny so he can work out his frustration at losing his first love. Johnny works out his frustration very well – by slitting throats. Not just his intended, but many others, for practice and pies. It’s all done to more ridiculous warbling, so is more about adding colour than horror.

The one bit I enjoyed was Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Adolfo Pirelli, a competitor barber. He was doing what he is best at – being funny. Now if they had left Depp and Carter to do what they are best at, decided whether the sets and lighting were meant to be realistic or fantasy, and left the venerable Mr Sondheim writing musicals for the stage... it could have been good.

I could have enjoyed it instead of wishing it would hurry up and end. Of course, I can’t give it one star because I recognise that both existing fans of the stage show and would-be fans are going to love it. It appeals to the people who want a stage show with a bit of an adult theme, dressed up with top stars (Depp’s performance is stellar). And to many more who, no doubt, see something I don’t.

So now you know what it is, you’ve probably read all the glowing reports, and you can decide whether you might like it or not.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2008
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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street packshot
Musical mayhem, murder most foul, and meat pies with a difference in a gothic tale of doomed love and deadly obsession.
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Read more Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street reviews:

Jennie Kermode *****

Director: Tim Burton

Writer: John Logan, adapted from the musical by Stephen Sondheim.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Ed Sanders

Year: 2007

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK


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