Sweeney Todd

Director – Tim Burton

Writer – John Logan

Starring – Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen.


I am usually the last person to sit down and watch a musical. I just can’t quite get into the notion of characters at one moment speaking and the next spontaneously bursting into song. With a few exceptions of musicals I hold dear to my heart I am not a fan of the genre. But it was the notion of a new Tim Burton offering that lured me to this film and although I am decisively disappointed with the result I still rather liked it.

Based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name, the film tells the infamous story of Benjamin Barker aka Sweeney Todd who, after being sent to prison on false charges by the evil Judge Turpin for 15 years, returns to London to find his wife dead and his daughter being looked after by the man who sent him away. As he plans his revenge, Todd sets up a barber shop where he slits the throats of his customers and the helpful Mrs Lovett bakes the victims into pies.

Sitting in the cinema watching Sweeney Todd for the first 15 minutes I had an overwhelming feeling of dislike towards the film. As I have said I am not a fan of musicals to say the least so this unusual format director Tim Burton has chosen to showcase the film as was not to me liking. My dislike was verging on hate as the minutes went by, that was until Sacha Baron Cohen turned up in a brief appearance. His inclusion in the film must have sparked something in me because from then on the format the film is told in sort of started to grow on me at the same time that I started to get used to it. By the end of the film I almost forgot about the fact that every few scenes the characters would start to sing for no apparent reason.

I think what I enjoyed most about Sweeney Todd, as I do with all of Burton’s other films, is the look of them. It has the trademark gothic feel to it that adds to the feeling of the story rather than just seeming flashy. What I admire about Burton as a filmmaker is he does what he wants to do, puts what he wants to into his films and rarely sacrifices his personal touches for anyone else’s. There’s no other director who does what he does, at least not as well, and Sweeney Todd continues his streak of doing what he wants to do.

The cast of the film, for the most part anyway, was chosen just right. This is Johnny Depp’s sixth collaboration with Burton and some might say this is arguably his finest. It may have been a bit of an obvious choice for Depp to fill the title role, especially since Burton was at the helm, but apart from the obvious reasons Depp was perfect for the role. Despite his general status because of his looks, among other things, Mr Depp is one hell of an actor. Out of the most famous actors in the world he is one of the most interesting to watch and he brings that strange way he has about him firmly to the table here. Along with him we have Alan Rickman as the evil Judge Turpin and for me that was a real treat. Whatever Rickman does he’s always an interesting person to watch, his mannerisms and in particular his unique voice makes him a pleasure to watch in just about everything he’s in. Then we have Timothy Spall in a smaller but still very memorable role as Turpin’s “assistant” and I am happy to say, as I believe this was obviously the aim, I hated his character. Who was, perhaps, my favourite character in the film though was Pirelli played brilliantly by Sacha Baron ‘Borat’ Cohen. Not surprisingly he brung the more comical touches to the film, something that I also enjoyed a lot about it.

The mentioned perfect casting choices are somewhat dampened by the one I had a problem with, that is Helena Bonham Carter as the pie-making Mrs Lovett. I have no problem with Carter as an actress, in fact I find her fascinating usually, but she was most definitely miscast here and the only reason, it seems to me anyway, that she was even in the film was the fact that she’s dating the director. It didn’t ruin the film by any means but it certainly stood out like a sore thumb.

The film doesn’t hold back in any way when it comes to displaying the killing of Todd’s victims. We see, in all it’s bloody glory, throats being slit right in front of us. But what made it completely bearable to look at was the comical and cartoonish manner it is done in. Although pints of blood are spilled by film’s end it is done in such a way that is seems glossy and fake almost. It may be a bit full-on for some but I can’t see a reason why anyone couldn’t handle it, to some extent anyway.

My biggest problem with Sweeney Todd was the very fact that it’s done as a musical. Although, like I said, it was kind of cool to see the film be done in such a unique way I couldn’t help but think, at every turn, that this would have been much better if it were done as straightforward, narrative film. Although a lot of the songs are well written and some even listenable out with the film I still felt like it didn’t need to be a musical. That may just be my personal dislike for the genre rearing its head again and causing me to complain, which in retrospect it probably is. But I seriously think that this story would make a fascinating film without the music.

Despite it’ shortcomings, of which there are many, I can still comfortably recommend Sweeney Todd. The film has a compelling look abut it and it has some fine character and performances to invest yourself in. And although it is plenty bloody sometimes it is still at the same time a very watchable film, even for the squeamish, in a lot of ways. The film did however leave me disappointed and wanting much more from it. Sad really; as the prospect seemed a lot tastier.

4 thoughts on “Sweeney Todd”

  1. I thought that this movie was fun. People keep saying they didn’t like Helena Bohnam Carters character but I thought her singing was the best. I mean who would have thought a song about people pie and being at the beach would be so hilarious and fun?

  2. Your review is kind of repetitive in the fact that you keep repeating your dislike for musicals. I agree with you about Helena Bonham Carter. I found her character to be annoying.

  3. @ Derek Fleek,

    I still mentioned things I really liked about it. There was more I DID like about it than didn’t. Just because I was dissapointed doesn’t mean I thought it was a bad movie or anything.

    @ Nubby,

    I repeated the fact that I didn’t like musicals because that was my biggest complaint about it. It didn’t NEED to be a musical and would have been better as a narrative film.

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