Sweeney Todd


I have a love-hate relationship with musicals. Such wonderful things have been made with them; but also such horrors. I have seen Annie, and you don’t just forgive something like that. But then, I’ve seen Urinetown, Into the Woods and Jesus Christ Superstar, so they’ve gone some way to making it up to me.1

Into this peculiar arena steps Sweeney Todd.2 It begins with two men arriving in London from the sea. These two will end up representing innocence and corruption, but to me they represent the good and evil sides of musicals. Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd is a character first and a randomly singing person second. His songs are murderous and obsessive. Like all my favourite characters in musicals, he feels like he has a reason to sing rather than talk — he’s tragic, and terrifying, and hilarious.

Anthony, on the other hand, represents all that is crappy in musicals so accurately that I’d think it were on purpose, if that wasn’t such a stupid thing to do. Jamie Campbell Bower sings like a person who’s got a song to sing and is particularly keen to hit the notes correctly and not particularly sure what the words mean. In fairness, his songs are such over-the-top stupid love songs that it’d be hard to make them stick. ‘Joanna’ is a particularly notable offender. I’m not a huge fan of schmaltzy love songs, but even if I were, I still don’t see how anyone can write a scene where someone spies a girl in a window and decides he’s in love with her, and not immediately think of said window-gazer as some particularly dangerous kind of pervert.3

In between them however is the best of them; Mrs Lovett. I say best not only because she’s played by the amazing Helena Bonham-Carter, who in a parallel universe I presume has a fantastic career playing dynamic female versions of all the cool parts Johnny Depp normally gets. No, she’s also the best character — sympathetic, flawed, horrid and kind. And, she gets the best song, or at least, the funniest. Also awesome, for his brief time on screen, is Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Adolfo Pirelli.

Now, while I’m not always sold on musicals, I am usually sold on movies from Tim Burton and Johnny Depp — even ones that have songs in them. So what’s gone wrong here? Somewhere out there, there’s a perfect balance to be struck between humour, gore,4 and tragedy. And if anyone’s going to find it, I reckon it could well be Tim Burton. But Sweeney Todd just doesn’t quite hit it. It has the right cast (mostly), and sometimes everything comes together perfectly, but ultimately the tragedy is too forced, and the humour too dull.5

So, in the end, Sweeney Todd is alright, generally entertaining, but a bit dull. Think about that. This is a movie about cannibalism, murder, pies, revenge, tragedy, masses of blood and unrequited love, and somehow it’s dull. It’s all a bit disappointing.

  1. These are possibly not traditional choices of good musicals. I’m not a huge Lloyd Webber fan, but I have a soft spot for the story of our Lord told with rocking guitar solos. Technically speaking, I haven’t seen Urinetown, but I’ve got a fair idea how it goes.
  2. What? Sweeney Todd is a musical? Generally speaking, the marketing for this film doesn’t really mention this. Clearly those in charge have decided that singing is a bit of a turn-off. It does result in some seriously irritated cinema-goers, though.
  3. Of course, said window-bound strumpet is held captive by an even more dangerous pervert, so I suppose we’re in a ‘lesser of two evils’ scenario.
  4. Mind you, I’ve been informed that the blood spurting from necks is not, in fact, ridiculously over the top as I thought, but is in fact just realistic. I say: it’s still funny.
  5. Not always. Johnny Depp looking grumpy in a victorian bathing suit is hilarious.
I can guarantee the closest shave you\'ll ever know. — Sweeney Todd

One Response to “Sweeney Todd”

  1. I concur. The worst song – I thought – had to go to Joanna… the random song about birds that seemed to just go on for about six minutes and SERVED NO PURPOSE WHATSOEVER. I sort of blanched at Helena during “Worst Pies In London” (I’m just going to presume that’s what the song is called) but warmed up to her after that. Her voice ain’t great, but it does the job. Plus she’s just generally fucking awesome.

    And yeah… the “Johnny Depp in bathing suit” has to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Polly had to start hitting me to get me to stop laughing.