Movie Review Sweeney Todd - Never Forgive, Never Forget

Take one wronged former barber who has been sentenced to a penal colony, has escaped and is out for revenge; one nasty judge who did the sentencing because he wanted the barber’s wife; one lonely widow who will do anything for the man she has her eyes on; one naïve sailor and one imprisoned girl - and you have the makings of Sweeny Todd.   I am not sure why some people have labeled it a comedy since despite some humorous scenes it is anything but that.

Sailor Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) confronts Todd (Johnny Depp)

Rescued from the sea by Anthony, Johnny Depp is Sweeney Todd, the wronged and vengeful barber, again succeeding in stretching his boundaries as an actor, giving us a totally different flavor than Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates.  His genius lies in his ability not to act or react when Mrs. Lovett ( Helena Bonham Carter) tells him of her dreams: them together on the beach or taking marriage vows.  His character cares only for revenge and so does Depp as he shows the simmering anger and hurt one might expect from such a person.  His key here was to think of Todd as a victim and not a killer and in many ways we do feel sorry for Todd but we also know that he is possessed with a hatred that can never be quenched.

Admiring his razors

His favorite instrument of death are the sharp razors that Lovett had hidden away, in the hopes that one day Todd might come back and - admitting that she always loved him - she hopes for a special thank you. 

Todd dances with Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter)

Vulnerable, horrific, funny and sweet, Lovett is so in love with him that she becomes his accomplice, suggesting that his victims be used as meat for her pies.  This thrills Todd, but it doesn’t bring him any closer to her.  Giving him his old room above her pie shop, she neglects to tell him one crucial thing…

Todd and Lovett watch Pirelli

When she is faced with the choice of love from the young boy Toby ( Edward Sanders) - who she rescued from the evil Pirelli played by Sasha Baron Cohen - and protecting Sweeney, she chooses the later. 

Pirelli (Sasha Baron Cohen)and Toby (Edward Saunders) contest against Todd

Alan Rickman, as Judge Turpin, is an equal but evil opponent for Todd.  He warns off Anthony, the sailor who is in love with the girl.  Rickman is perhaps best known from the Harry Potter films, where he looks bad but is really good.  Here he is all bad and he plays the villain so wonderfully as if he truly believes that, after all he has done, his step-daughter might really love him. 

Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) warns sailor Anthony

The nefarious and just as evil henchman Beadle Bamford is  played by Timothy Spall who was recently seen as the Queen’s henchman in Enchanted. 

Nasty Beadle Timothy Spall

Laura Michelle Kelly plays Todd’s lost wife and the Beggar Woman who becomes one his victims.  

Jayne Wisner plays Johanna, Todd’s innocent daughter, who had been taken from him as a baby and is now held prisoner by the evil judge who seems to feel that if he can keep her locked down until she is old enough to marry, she will, of course, adore him.   She is in love with the sailor Anthony ( Jamie Campbell Bower) who coincidently was the one who rescued Todd at sea.

The make up for both Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett – their hair wild and their faces white with darkened eyes – remind me very much of the Corpse Bride, but then again it should because the director, Tim Burton, is the same creative force.  Bringing London of the 19th century to life was much due to the artistic work and choices of Dante Ferretti who, following Burton’s direction, gave it a black and white old Hollywood film look to express Sweeney’s darkness, with the only colorful flashbacks being from the time when he was happily married.  Despite the limited number of sets, the movie very much has the feel of London’s Fleet Street, Harbor and Hyde Park as you are absorbed into the moment.

Much of the original music from the play, written by Stephen Sondheim, was used here, as well as new songs the composer wrote especially for the movie. The music and mood are haunting as they bring in the spirit of the story – and much of the movie is told in the songs and lyrics.  I was surprised at Johnny Depp’s wonderful singing voice.  Is there anything he can't do?

The songs express much of the movie’s theme and highlight the juxtaposition of the events.  Sweeney and Turpin do a duet signing “Beautiful Woman” – each thinking of the same woman – all while Turpin is in the barber chair about to have his neck sliced. 

Todd and Turpin singing about the women in their lives as Todd is about to shave the judge

Having been one of the few who saw the London theatre production many years ago, I was looking forward to seeing the movie version.  I had never thought a serial killer would be considered a great plot for a musical and while I truly enjoyed the acting, music, set design and make up, et all, the amount of blood and gore shown in the film seemed unnecessary.  After all, the stage play had succeeded with very little visible violence.  The script is admirably written by John Logan combining the original story with the play. 

Was Sweeney Todd a real serial killer?  Reportedly, there was a barber that was said to live in 1750's who murdered 160 people before being caught by the stench near the cooking pies.   Others say he is just a work of fiction. 

Screenwriter J. Logan and Richard D Zanuck, producer

Produced by the fabulous team of Laure McDonald/Walter Parkes and Richard ZanuckPatrick McCormick executive produced. 

Tim Burton, Steven Sondheim and Helena Bonham Carter

The film is rated R and with all the blood shed one can see why.  If you have a strong stomach go see it.  

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