Sunday, 18 November 2012

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

“My elixir is piss???!!! Who says this?”

I don’t as a rule, like musicals. I do, as a rule, like Tim Burton films. So this was an interesting film to approach. I reviewed Little Shop of Horrors recently too, mind: perhaps my attitude to musicals is becoming more open-minded. I certainly enjoyed this one, although of course I have no idea how faithful it was to Tim Burton’s original.

This is a Tim Burton film, so obviously it stars Johnny Depp, complete with cockney accent, and the missus, Helena Bonham Carter, who is by far the sexiest of all of H.H. Asquith’s descendents. Both are, obviously, superb. The whole look of the film is exactly what you’d expect from a Tim Burton film, with all the brilliance thereof, and this style works wonderfully here. It’s usually twilight, with muted, pastel, pre-Raphaelite colours working well as a limited palette. Only the flashbacks, depicting a time of happiness, are brightly coloured. The dark visuals serve to evoke a wonderfully gothic and dark Victorian London, and yet there’s beauty in the darkness; it’s never depressing. It’s a perfect marriage between the visuals and the wonderfully dark humour of the story and the songs.

Yes, I enjoyed this as a musical. The songs were fantastic. Perhaps I’ll be converted. You can certainly expect the third review after this one to be another great musical, I can tell you for certain. After that long hiatus I have quite a backlog…

Alan Rickman is superb as a baddie, which will surprise no one, and gets some gloriously moustache-twirling lines (I love the scene where he sentences a little boy to hang, which by the rules of all drama means he need to die horribly as punishment!), although there’s one point where I noticed Stephen Sondheim doesn’t seem to have quite known what a catamite is. It’s something much gayer than implied by the dialogue here…! But the dialogue, and the lyrics, are gloriously witty throughout. All the characters are grotesques, which means we can enjoy their gruesomely blood-spattered demises.

The best character, though, it Mrs Lovett, that gloriously scatter-brained cannibal, whose demise is the most wonderfully gory of them all. Bonham Carter is magnificent, and has superb chemistry with Depp. I love the fantasy sequences depicting both characters in a cottage by the seaside, with poor Sweeney Todd looking thoroughly miserable!!!

The ending is a bit predictable, but it’s supposed to be: the mysterious old woman turning out to be the protagonist’s wife is one of the most clichéd of all the many tropes of the Victorian novel. The Judge finally gets to die, after much teasing, and the spurting of the blood goes on and on, gloriously. We end with gallons of blood flowing and yet, somehow, it’s all very romantic.

Enormous fun. If you’re partial to a Tim Burton film but not too keen on musicals, like myself, give this a chance.

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