In 2007, the debut film version of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970s musical-thriller Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was released. The original Broadway musical was, and still is, a massive hit, but the idea of making a film out of it was a somewhat controversial one. Musicals are hardly the most popular films at […]
In 2007, the debut film version of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970s musical-thriller Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was released. The original Broadway musical was, and still is, a massive hit, but the idea of making a film out of it was a somewhat controversial one. Musicals are hardly the most popular films at the box office, and horror musicals even less so, and the few film adaptations of Sondheim’s other shows have hardly been a raging success – nevertheless, Tim Burton and co. took it on, and exceeded everyone’s expectations.
No director could be more perfect to take this on than Burton. The fascinating, vaguely historical story of the murderous, vengeful hairdresser and his cannibalistic girlfriend seems as if it was made for his quirky, gothic-horror style, and casting firm favourites Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter as the main roles couldn’t be more apt. Their chemistry is remarkable as ever, and they bring a captivating, almost charming (I said almost) intensity to their ghastly characters. The supporting cast are equally impressive. Sacha Baron Cohen provides the comedic value of the film with a short-but-sweet role as arrogant rival barber Signor Pirelli, while young lovers Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) and Johanna (Jayne Wisener) have the audience rooting for a happy ending – with a nice added touch: that they can actually sing. That’s the thing we need to remember – it’s a musical, and yet very few singers were cast in main roles, but does it matter? I’d argue not. The film is by its very nature rough and raw, so perfect singers really weren’t a necessity (and, who knew, Depp actually has a pretty decent voice).
Screenwriter John Logan’s adaptation, along with Burton’s direction and Sondheim’s stunning score gel perfectly together to make Sweeney Todd no less than a masterpiece. The direction is arty, with the film almost entirely in black-and-white, allowing for maximum shock from the bright scarlet gory bits, and Burton’s intimate interpretation of a relatively subdued Sweeney and Mrs Lovett with dark pasts makes for a really interesting, and psychologically thrilling, viewing.
Some have said that SweeneyTodd is too gory for musical fans, and too musical for horror fans. Perhaps some hardcore horror buffs will be a bit put off by the singing and dancing aspect, but I truly think it’s the perfect mix of theatre and gore to make for a thoroughly enjoyable (if slightly stomach-turning) film.