The Red Right Hand

The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Never Forget. Never Forgive.

Tim Burton

Johnny Depp
Helena Bonham Carter
Alan Rickman

As many know, I'm a proud Londoner, born and raised. I grew up a handful of miles away from Fleet Street and know the story of Sweeney Todd rather well. I realise that the whole urban legend debate rages on but I know worse things have happened so it doesn’t sound too far fetched - I like to think it's true. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the premise is simple: a happy London barber [Depp] is snatched away from his young bride and infant child by a malicious and wholly envious judge [Rickman], only to return fifteen years later to seek revenge. Upon arrival home, he discovers his wife dead and his daughter adopted by the very man who broke apart his family. Taking refuge with Mrs. Lovett, a deranged pie mistress [Bonham-Carter], the barber begins offing customers with his straight razors, to be added as filling for pies.

Almost everyone entering this film will be initially anticipating the singing. I must confess as well-and-good as it was, I felt a little under whelmed. The cast was littered with singers trying to act but their characters were not as developed as others so we don't care and actors trying to sing but only getting as far as their non-trained lungs can take them. Also, much to fan's dismay, many songs have been cut from the 1979 theatre release, while others have been adapted to regularly spoken script-work; an understandable move for a cinematic release but lessens the story a little by removing the satire, irony and elements of fate, only to be replaced with blind coincidence. Despite this, the film is greatly entertaining and the final scenes offer a darkness that Depp rarely has a chance to show-off. With regards to the killings, the blood is funny and anyone complaining about it shouldn't be watching a film about a barber who slits throats! It's not executed (excuse the pun there) in such a way that is horrific or Hostel-esque, more to the styling of Monty Python; it's meant to be funny.

Burton's typical attention to style and aesthetics are awe inspiring as per usual. London looked perfectly on-key but the only anachronisms I could see were regarding the hair, make-up and costumes; all of which I thought were fantastic, just historically exaggerated - namely a distinct lack of powdered wigs. I would like to say that's the only downside but there were quite a few issues. Firstly, the pacing seems a little off, as if Burton just goes through the motions without emotional attachment, suspense or build-up; especially the ending but this is probably something that will only be shared by a snobbish few. Similarly to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, the opening CGI sequence feels a little pony. The thought, planning and design were all commendable but the graphics and final effect felt a little tame and unfinished.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure if this film will hit off well or not. I'm sure critics will appreciate it but Johnny Depp's core audience will probably be too young, those who like musicals generally won't like the blood and those who like blood-fests generally won't like sappy tunes between the young lovers. If you ask me, I wouldn't have optioned for Sondheim's musical but rather Christopher Bond's original play; which would have removed any issues of genre crossing and allowed Burton to improve upon his cast.

Release Date:
25th January 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
Enjoying a picnic in one of London's parks, Mrs. Lovett sings a solo piece about the future, living on the seaside with Mr. Todd. The scene is awash with colour and humour befitting the original musical as Todd sits glumly plastered with a constant blank-faced stare as Mrs. Lovett envisions a quaint future for the pair. Entertaining to the last, proving that though they may not have been able to sing as well as most stage-trained professionals, they carry the parts well.

Notable Characters:
Even though Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp look a little too young for their respective parts, they both offer astoundingly good performances. Unfortunately, this is also a slight downside, the majority of the supporting cast, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, boast fine performances but the stage performers, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly and Jayne Wisener (bar Ed Sanders - a Gavroche-esque tyke), look completely out-of-place; so much so that I couldn't care less about their dull love story.

Highlighted Quote:
"You are young, life has been kind to you. You will learn. There's a hole in the world like a great black pit and the vermin of the world inhabit it and its morals aren't worth what a pin could split and it goes by the name of London"

In A Few Words:
"A wondrous Grand Guignol offering; my only real complaints are when drawing comparisons to the original musical"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon