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  Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Who Ate All The Pies?
Year: 2007
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener, Ed Sanders, Anthony Head
Genre: Horror, Musical, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: A ship from a prison colony in Australia docks at a London port, and from it disembarks Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), fifteen years away, and his young sailor friend Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) who is impressed with the possibilities the capital promises. Benjamin is not so convinced and tells him of what led him to be deported in the first place; in happier times, he had been a successful barber with a new wife, Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) and a newer baby, but one of the city's powerful judges, Turpin (Alan Rickman) grew jealous and had Benjamin unjustly arrested and sent to the other side of the world... but now he's back.

Sweeney Todd had been a popular character in lurid fiction for decades until Stephen Sondheim offered him a sheen of respectability with his blockbusting musical and it had taken the opus almost as long to reach the big screen such was its creator's worries over how it might have been mishandled by Hollywood. He need not have concerned himself too much as with Tim Burton at the helm the result was both faithful to its source and the best live action production its director had come up with since the nineteen-nineties.

Helping him along were a cast who knew exactly what was expected of them, led by Depp, whose Benjamin takes the alias Sweeney Todd to ensure that he is not recognised and can begin work again - on his plans for revenge. As bitter and twisted as Todd is, the actor never makes him the whiny victim, sustaining the simmering resentment and aching loss that he nurses to keep his dream of attaining satisfaction alive. That dream is of course a nightmare for everyone else, part of the theme of how the wrongs of the past can corrupt the present, but Todd finds an ally in someone who recognises him and wishes to replace his wife, who is lost to him, in his affections.

She is Mrs Lovett, and there was some carping that Helena Bonham Carter, as Burton's real life partner, shouldn't have been given the role as it smacked of favouritism. Clearly those naysayers had not seen the superb performance that Carter offered up, providing both much needed humour without labouring the grotesquerie and enhancing the tragic qualities: whatever Todd thinks, he had found his perfect match in the pie-shop-owning widow. They do become allies, turning Lovett's establishment from selling the "worst pies in London" to a roaring success, and all because of the secret ingredient.

That ingredient being human flesh, provided by Todd's slaying of his barber customers on the first floor and neatly dispatched below to the cellar via a handy trapdoor. Burton and his team create an atmosphere that is not only seedy and oppressive - there's barely a shot lit in strong daylight - but also with a sense of futility, as if Todd has taken his vengeance to such extremes that he has damned himself and everyone around him and there's nothing that will salvage their souls. Only the young lovers, Anthony and Todd's daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener), seem like a distraction from this, with a subplot about Anthony's rescue of the young woman from the clutches of the evil but lovelorn Judge Turpin altogether too wholesome for its surroundings, but I suppose we needed a ray of hope after the bleak and over-the-top bloody finale. Appropriately packed with operatic emotions, Sweeney Todd shows what a keen combination of musical and horror can achieve, and that's plenty.

(Warner's two-DVD edition has a wealth of featurettes on the stars, the director, Sondheim, the design, and more.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Tim Burton  (1958 - )

American director, producer and writer, frequently of Gothic flavoured fantasy who has acquired a cult following in spite of the huge mainstream success of many of his projects. He began as an animator at Disney, who allowed him to work on his own projects while animating the likes of The Fox and the Hound, which garnered the attention of Paul Reubens to direct Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

Next up was supernatural comedy Beetle Juice, leading to the massively hyped Batman and Batman Returns; in the middle was a more personal project, the melancholy Edward Scissorhands. Ed Wood was a biopic of the world's worst director, a flop with a loyal following, Mars Attacks was an alien invasion spoof that got lost in the Independence Day publicity, and Burton ended the 1990s with hit horror Sleepy Hollow.

The 2000s saw the poorly received Planet of the Apes remake, but Big Fish, a father and son tale more personal to the director fared better. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was unsatisfying, but a success, and Sweeney Todd was another collaboration with frequent leading man Johnny Depp. Burton hasn't turned his back on animation, mind you, with both The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride fast becoming cult favourites.

A reimagining of Alice in Wonderland rewarded him with a further hit, though again reaction was mixed, as it was with horror soap adaptation Dark Shadows and animated update Frankenweenie. He returned to biopic territory with Big Eyes, then next was young adult fantasy Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and one of those Disney juggernauts, the live action remake of Dumbo.

 
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