The Screen Room
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
You might remember a post I did recently where I confessed to having seen just 20 of Johnny Depp’s 80 plus movies (shameful, I know).
Well, one film of his that I’ve always been curious about but have purposely avoided for one reason in particular just happened to pop up on Netflix last weekend. I figured it was time I gave it a watch.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
So why have I avoided this movie for 15 years? You can probably guess…Because it’s a musical.
Don’t get me wrong, I love music! I’m just not keen on musicals.
With the exception of Grease (1978), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and maybe White Christmas (1954) I’m happy to give this genre a wide birth.
I’ve never seen Moulin Rouge (2001), Chicago (2002), Hairspray (2007), The Greatest Showman (2017) or the Mama Mia! movies for that matter.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old bastard I just find the whole musical thing cheesy and over-the-top cheerful.
I don’t mean to offend any fans of the genre here by the way and I realise I’m probably missing out on some good films by shutting myself off to all of them, however, we all have our likes and dislikes and I simply don’t like musicals.
Having said all that, I have to admit, I did enjoy this one!
If you haven’t seen it, it’s a film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Tony Award winning 1979 musical of the same name.
It’s directed by Tim Burton (Beetlejuice) and stars Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands), Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club), Alan Rickman (Die Hard), Timothy Spall (Enchanted) and Ed Sanders (Hugo).
There are also supporting roles from Jamie Campbell Bower (Stranger Things), Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) and Jayne Wisener (Jane Eyre) among others.
This is what it’s about according to the internet:
“Evil Judge Turpin (Rickman) lusts for the beautiful wife of a London barber (Depp) and transports him to Australia for a crime he did not commit. Returning after 15 years and calling himself Sweeney Todd, the now-mad man vows revenge, applying his razor to unlucky customers and shuttling the bodies down to Mrs. Lovett (Bonham Carter), who uses them in her meat-pie shop. Though many fall to his blade, he will not be satisfied until he slits Turpin's throat.”
Much like when I’m watching a film with subtitles I found myself, for the first ten minutes or so wondering if I’d make it through the whole film. As is often the case though I soon forget I’m reading subtitles and before I know it I’m reading the end credits. That’s how I felt about the musical nature of this but fortunately it won me over quite quickly.
It helps of course that it has such a brilliant cast, and their performances along with the tragic nature of the story and the striking imagery captivated me from very early on making me commit to seeing the whole thing through.
Johnny Depp is superb in this movie! He says as much with his eyes and facial expressions as he does with his voice. You genuinely feel his pain and heartbreak which, as sinister as his intentions are, make it easy to root for him. He and Helena Bonham Carter are perfectly cast as the films dastardly duo.
I hadn’t realised Alan Rickman was in this film until the opening credits and that actually gave me a little more confidence that I was gonna like it. Not that I should’ve doubted it I suppose. I’d heard it was good and with Tim Burton at the helm how could I not love it?
The thing that stood out to me right from the start was how good the film looks visually. The sets, the makeup, the costumes! It’s got Tim Burton all over it but darker if that’s even possible.
One of my favourite Tim Burton films is Sleepy Hollow, and I don’t know if it’s just because they’re set in the same era but they have a very similar feel.
I love the greyed-out gloomy tone of the film. London, I imagine was a pretty depressing place to be back in the mid-eighteen hundreds, and the way Burton pulls a lot of colour from the picture emphasises that perfectly. He’s used this technique (desaturation) in several of his films to great effect.
When it comes to the musical aspect of the film which, let’s not forget is the reason I’ve put off watching it all these years, I thought it was really well done. I’m no expert on musicals (or anything for that matter) but I not only enjoyed the songs, I loved how they seemed reserved for what would’ve otherwise been important lines of dialogue. Each song comes in at a time where something big is happening within the story (is that how all musicals work?)
As for the vocal performances I thought they were excellent. Even from the actors we know have had none or very little singing experience (unlike Johnny Depp). I loved how honest and seemingly untampered with they were.
If you listen to the songs from any of the live action Disney movies that have been released in recent years you’ll hear a tonne of autotune on all of the vocals. This is software that digitally tunes the voice to make it sound perfect. It’s used on 99.9% of pop records these days and you can hear it a mile off. I hate it!!
The vocal performances in this movie though sound organic and that’s just another reason to love it!
I’m not saying I’m converted and that I’m gonna go and binge-watch a load of musicals but I really did enjoy this one. I think it probably helps that it’s a pretty dark tale. I love all that macabre kind of stuff and films set in and around this era. There’s just something mysterious and dangerous about it that appeals to me for some reason.
If, like me you’ve avoided this film due to the musical nature of it, I recommend you put your issues aside and give it a chance. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Seen it? Let me know in the comments.👇