VOD film review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Ivan Radford | On 08, Oct 2015
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall
Watch Sweeney Todd online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit, and it’s filled with people who are filled with…”
Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd, his skin was pale and his eye was odd. The opening lines of Stephen Sondheim’s macabre musical may be missing, but our introduction to the gruesome, grimy streets of London still retains a distinctive visual flair; saturated in soot and scum, Tim Burton’s take on the Demon Barber of Fleet Street borders on graphic novel, oozing with oil-black humour. It may have been created on Broadway, but this is Burton’s warped reality we‚Äôre entering, and it’s long way from New York.
Benjamin Barker was a barber by trade, with a beautiful wife and daughter to boot. Enter jealous Judge Turpin (Rickman), who arrests Barker and covets his spouse. 15 years later, Barker is gone; in his place, Todd, now sporting a streak of white hair atop his haunted face. With his wife long since dead and daughter Johanna kept captive by Turpin, Todd desires one thing: revenge. And so he sets up shop again on Fleet Street, offering the closest shave in town.
Depp excels as the demonic Todd, adopting an air that is less eccentric and more, well, sick. He deftly dispatches customers with hilarious disregard, slitting throats while serenading his late lover. As blood wets his shirt and face, his transformation between Burtonesque characters is complete ‚Äì from Edward Scissorhands to hell’s headless horseman in the flick of a wrist. Living beneath him is meat-pie-maker Mrs. Lovett (Bonham-Carter). Clearly revelling in her grubby, infested habitat, Helena completes this deranged duet with relish; a twisted bride for the psychotic barber.
The vocal panache of the cast is, perhaps, surprising. Jointly cast by Burton and Sondheim, it even includes the suitably sneering Timothy Spall, and the inspired choice of Sacha Baron Cohen as rival hairdresser Pirelli. Sporting a bright blue outfit and an impressive falsetto, he provides a well-played contrast to the capital’s dark, moody streets.
All the actors eagerly embrace the operatic nature of the through-composed source, appearing to burst into speech in between stretches of song. From Rickman’s half-spoken singing to Depp’s gravelly growls, the angular disharmonies resolve into chords of a chilling beauty ‚Äì something that could have grated on camera, but works extremely well. Unafraid to foreground the melodramatic score, Burton’s treatment is eerily enchanting, echoing Dies Irae and Bernard Herrmann with a thundering theatricality. Who needs Danny Elfman?
Burton’s Todd splatters the screen with a jubilance that never fails to engage. As the tragedy draws to a close, the script stokes the fires of bloody vengeance, and Sweeney snicks necks with a fearsome finality. Brutally haunting, yet somehow poetic, the gory final frame is wrought with emotion. Once it fades to black, you’ll be hungry for more.
Sweeney Todd is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.