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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
TBC
Cast
Johnny Depp
Helena Bonham Carter
Alan Rickman
Timothy Spall
Sacha Baron Cohen.
Directors
Tim Burton.
Screenwriters
John Logan.
Running Time
TBC minutes

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
There will be blood. Lots and lots of it...


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Plot
Early 19th-century London. Barber Benjamin Barker (Depp) is transported to a penal colony by Judge Turpin (Rickman), who wants Barker’s wife. Fifteen years later, Barker returns under the guise of Sweeney Todd, moves into his old room above Mrs. Lovett’s (Bonham Carter) pie shop and starts plotting his bloody revenge...


Review
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
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Everybody knows the story of Sweeney Todd, the barber who cut his customers’ throats and turned the corpses over to his criminal partner Mrs. Lovett to be cooked up in meat pies. Debate persists as to whether he was an actual historical character, but the Demon Barber Of Fleet Street has been prominent in our national gallery of horrors since the middle of the 19th century.

The usual version of the tale - as enshrined in Victorian penny dreadfuls, sensationalist theatre and a ramshackle but wonderful 1936 vehicle for aptly named British horror star Tod Slaughter - is all about crime. Sweeney Todd’s methods may be gruesome, but he’s primarily in it for the money (the early versions of the story are titled after the loot, The String Of Pearls). Then, in 1968, playwright Christopher Bond came up with a new take, drawing on Jacobean revenge tragedy and populist melodrama in which horribly violent stories expose social inequities. This reading caught the attention of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who adapted it into a dark, bloody 1979 Broadway (and West End) musical which has understandably never enjoyed the long carriage-trade runs much lesser shows have managed, but is acclaimed as a peak of the form.

This masterpiece has proved a daunting movie prospect: the few films of other Sondheim shows haven’t been hits, the track-record of musical horror isn’t encouraging (shudder at the memory of Joel Schumacher’s Phantom Of The Opera), and the score was thought to be beyond the tonsils of non-singer stars. Moreover, audiences traditionally want musicals about happy-go-lucky, song-in-their-hearts lovers who clinch for the final curtain. Sweeney Todd offers a protagonist so consumed with hatred he can only have a real relationship with his favourite razors (subject of the show’s big love song, My Friends) and a crass cook horribly in love with a man-monster who only notices her when she suggests cannibalism as a solution to his corpse-disposal problem. Enter Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, artists with a knack for alternating crowd-pleasing hits with more demanding, peculiar work. Neither has gone this dark before, but their canniness tends to take audiences down strange, often dangerous byways.

First off, screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) and director Burton have been daring in their adaptation. If you want a faithful preservation of the stage show, see the DVD of a filmed Broadway performance with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury - because this isn’t it. Songs have been trimmed, sub-plots pruned (the young lovers, who once provided some sweetness and light, barely get a look in) and a few trace elements (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Anthony Head cameo) suggest a last-minute pruning of the script. Most unusually, The Ballad Of Sweeney Todd - which Sondheim uses to introduce the character and reprises throughout to keep the story bubbling over - is present as a theme, but bereft of its lyrics. On stage, the Ballad serves to frame the story as a tale being told (“What happened then/Well, that’s the play/And he wouldn’t want us to give it away”), and also as justification for the melodramatic plot-shuffle which gets everyone in place for the bloody finale. Here, after the magnificent tune and a striking credits sequence featuring a viscous red blood pool which oozes like The Blob, we plunge into the latest of Burton’s decaying, noirish fantasy cities. This Hammer Horror London, presumably at the turn of the 18th to 19th centuries, is entered by passing under Tower Bridge, which in the real world wasn’t built until a hundred years later. In other films, that might be a historical gaffe - but this is a Gotham City version of Old London.
Having dispensed with the distancing devices, the film casts everyone younger than written. This isn’t a commercial decision, since Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter bring a pale, insomniac vigour to their ghastly characters, which serves mostly to up their savagery. They don’t, however, add spice to the recipe - like a surprising number of Burton’s films, any sexuality is channelled into other obsessions.

A key peripheral character, who was a vulgar prostitute on stage, is now a demented holy fool; and Depp’s Todd is so focused on vengeance that he never takes so much as a sidelong glance at Mrs. Lovett’s corseted cleavage. The stars make surprisingly fair fists of the singing (Depp sometimes sounds as if he’s fronting a David Bowie tribute band), and their acting muscles put over Sondheim’s intricate, clever lyrics (A Little Priest, the “list” song about cannibalism, is Tales From The Crypt via Gilbert and Sullivan). You can’t like Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, but they’re hard to look away from.

With truncated roles, the supporting cast have to work hard with what’s left. Sacha Baron Cohen struts like an import from an operetta in two contrasting, funny scenes before his abrupt exit, while Alan Rickman (adding subtlety) and Timothy Spall (going the other way) contribute villainy as the confident, perverse Judge Turpin (unshaven cheeks a clear invitation to his ultimate fate) and his toadying, toothy sidekick. The most strenuous arc is given to the youngest character, Toby Ragg (Ed Sanders), the abused Artful Dodger-like apprentice who Mrs. Lovett inherits from Sweeney’s rival barber, who is driven to homicidal mania come the climax. Sanders, a child rather than the twentysomething usually seen in the role, is creepily convincing, which doesn’t make the climax any more comforting.

Burton doesn’t stint on arterial spray from cut throats (with almost pure black-and-white art direction and costuming, scarlet is often the only colour on screen) and adds his own gruesome touch, with skulls smashing when the corpses tip out of Todd’s purpose-built barber chair -a typical Tim Burton contraption - to fall head-first into the stone-floored basement. The social comment, never a Burton strong suit, is present but unstressed - which, along with a bloodied Depp and the Gothic slum sets, occasionally raises unbidden memories of From Hell. This is far more a tale of cold, one-track-mind psychosis (with appalling fall-out for anyone who gets between Todd and his purpose) than a picture of a world where man is always devouring man.

But somehow it’s not a downer: ultimately, everyone gets what they deserve, even if it that means merely a magnificent death.


Verdict
Whether horror fans are ready for high-notes or musical buffs will appreciate Dario Argento levels of gore is an open question, but this is a rich, demented experience.


Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Empire Star Rating

Bloody brilliant

Worth-a-watch? Most definitely, for three reasons this film shouldn’t be missed. Firstly, the stylised, sepulchral, pulsating city that Burton creates. Secondly, the startling performances of both the Hollywood favourites and the London stage and screen veterans couldn’t provide a better accompaniment of inhabitants. And because of the beauty and thought that went into providing such visually striking images throughout make this an astounding piece of cinematography. OH, unless you&... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by benlacey1 at 15:50, 10 June 2012 | Report This Post


Bloody brilliant

http://thereeldealreviewer.blogspot.co.uk/p/sweeney-tod d-demon-barber-of-fleet.html ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by benlacey1 at 15:50, 10 June 2012 | Report This Post


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Review

Full of pith and Grand Guignol grossness, this macabre musical is perfectly helmed and highly entertaining. Tim Burton masterfully stages the musical in a way that will make you think he has done this many times before. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 12:55, 11 May 2012 | Report This Post


Burton's Masterpiece

My favourite film of all time, why? Visually impressive, perfectly casted and acted, some good tunes and a story that is fascinatingly dark but at the same time deep and layered. Essentially a tragedy at heart with (minor) undertones of poverty and injustice. The ending is poignant, sad and perfect. Just spot the many hidden implications in its closing act. As for the singing I think its actually a good thing that the actors are singing themselves giving it a great deal of realism. Simply brilli... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by trainedasninja at 20:07, 07 June 2011 | Report This Post


Burton and Depp are Gods

They will always have an enormous place in my heart. My favourite director and my favourite actor. I'll adore them forever ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by monkeyhumour at 02:33, 25 March 2010 | Report This Post


There's no place like London

Fantastic and almost whimsical at times, the performances are pitch perfect and Burton directs with his trademark flair and imagination, bringing the dark and gruesome side of Victorian London to life on our screens ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by gregmeister11 at 15:07, 05 March 2010 | Report This Post


There was a barber and his wife (Sweeney Todd)

What can i say its another brilliant adaptation from legendary Tim Burton, amazing performances from the cast,enjoyable songs, tension and a teary ending :) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by deppfanatic at 20:02, 21 September 2009 | Report This Post


a very different, very effective film

one of the better modern musicals. what makes the story of Sweeney Todd so appealing is that its untypical of the musical genre in that it takes what you usuallly look for in a musical, melodramatic acting and singing and mixes it with violence and horror. Tim Burton hasn't failed to impress here. the film kept you interested throughout the singing and the style complimented the violence and the dark humour perfectly. an impressive cast list. Depp, Bonham-Carter and Rickman all play... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by WhiteRabbit23 at 21:04, 10 August 2009 | Report This Post


Sweeney Todd

Very very very good film. Johnny Deep is excelent in it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jacklhisc1993 at 20:34, 01 July 2009 | Report This Post


Sweeney Todd

Very very very good film. Johnny Deep is excelent in it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jacklhisc1993 at 20:34, 01 July 2009 | Report This Post


Sweeney Todd

I would have to say the first time i heard about Johnny Depp and Tim Burton teaming up once again to create this masterpiece i had high expectations judging by their pervious films together and after watching it would have to say that they both have gone past their expectations and once again have proved how talented both Johnny Depp and Tim Burton are, not for them two to take all teh credit Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen all or fantastic in the film, an... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bethanej at 17:29, 20 May 2009 | Report This Post


An Average Affair.

Thats it. Not Great, Not Terrible - Just Average. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by The Lensman at 10:14, 23 April 2009 | Report This Post


false advertising

the reason its false advertising is becos i didnt even know it was a musical until i watched it.the song "epiphany" was good most the other songs were downright awful,particularly at the start.but oherwise i thought it was a great because the storyline was brilliant,the costumes and makeup was very good and great scary bits. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JohnPaul1996 at 21:02, 06 April 2009 | Report This Post


Bit hard to follow and too stylised

Straight to the point I hoped for more given the production team. As it is what the fim ends up being is a just a good musical no more no less. Tim Burton has always had the habit of making his films overly gothic and while it suits the story and London I'm not convinced that it was a a good idea to do the same with the leads. As for the leads they are good at singing unfortunately I wasn't able to follow the songs as well as I have done in the few other musicals I have seen. In the end ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by brokenking at 00:18, 04 April 2009 | Report This Post


Amazing

One of the best movies I have seen and amazed that there was no Oscar wins for Johnny Depp he was amazing and he could sing. Helena was also amazing a role that was ment for her. One of the best Burton/Depp movies to date ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JDN at 00:56, 03 March 2009 | Report This Post


Great, but...

There's too much singing. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JaCkT794 at 16:23, 27 December 2008 | Report This Post


Great, but...

There's too much singing. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JaCkT794 at 16:23, 27 December 2008 | Report This Post


Superb

Rich, fantastic music and brilliant acing and direction- thoroughly enjoyable stuff ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 14:24, 16 October 2008 | Report This Post


Superb

Rich, fantastic music and brilliant acing and direction- thoroughly enjoyable stuff ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 14:24, 16 October 2008 | Report This Post


Burtons Best

Hands Down Tim Burtons best since "Ed Wood" and once again proves that Johnny Depp is one of the best and most charismatic actors ever. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PaulJohn at 19:27, 02 August 2008 | Report This Post


how??

really really poor - I love Burton, Depp in fact most of the people associated with this film but I just struggle to see how this gets the praise it has !? maybe im just synical but the only thing enjoyable about this film is Sacha other than that I just cant get it !! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by waltham1979 at 11:24, 17 July 2008 | Report This Post


A bit of a let-down

Missed while it ran in cinema`s so I gave it a try tonight on dvd. The result is a tale of two feelings, a typical case of style over substance. It looks wonderfull and dark and is shot beautifully. Nothing wrong with that. But the story just couldn`t get to me, as could the characters. I couldn`t really get into the film. I thought that the movie was streched out too long and there were only a few songs that were ok. On the other hand: the last act was really good, as was the acting by Dep... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 21:55, 15 July 2008 | Report This Post


brilliant

the best burton/depp colabaration IMO since sleepy hollow ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tango fett at 11:09, 12 June 2008 | Report This Post


Tim Burton: My Friend

I've always been a massive fan of Tim Burton especially when he is paired up with Johnny Depp. These two are a match made in heaven and this film just proves it. By only wathing the starting scene you can see immediatly that this is a Burton film: the long intro which gets us hooked sraight away with its mystery but is also giving us clues to what the film is really about. After this intro we launch straight into the film where the events leading up to this scene are explained. The repitition o... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by shortassros at 19:00, 04 June 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant Sweeney

I thought this was Tim Burton's best work since Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. I've felt slightly underwhelmed by his output since those two movies (I never thought the Batman films were od) and his other stuff, I dunno while enjoyable always seemed slightly lacking. This certainly didn't apply to Sweeney Todd however.   The way it looks is amazing and Johnny Depp is cool enough for you to root for him even while he's slashing random throats and providing meat for Helen... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 17:12, 09 May 2008 | Report This Post


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