Sweeney Todd’s Origins
Sweeney Todd is adapted from a serialized tale called The String of Pearls: A Romance. The story took place in 1785 and was first published as a serial in 1846-47. The story has been adapted for stage and screen many times over, but in case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the short version. Sweeney Todd is a barber on Fleet Street in London. He kills his victims (sometimes through breaking their necks and sometimes giving them too close a shave with his straight-edge razor). Then disposes of the bodies by giving them to his neighbor, Mrs. Lovett. She bakes them into meat pies at a time when meat is very scarce in the darker corners of the city.
What is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street About?
In the movie version, which is based on a Steven Sondheim adaptation for the stage, things are a bit more complex. It delves more into Todd’s life before he became the “demon barber.” He (Johnny Depp) was a happily married man with a new baby girl, Joanna. But powerful, vindictive judge (Alan Rickman) has his sights set on his wife. The judge arranges for him to be arrested and convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. When he escapes and returns to London, he takes on the name “Sweeney Todd” and no one recognizes him.
At least, until he challenges a local barber (Sacha Baron Cohen) to a shaving competition in front of a crowd. Todd wins handily, but the faux-Italian competitor pays him a visit. He reveals he was Todd’s assistant for a few weeks as a kid before the arrest. He tries to blackmail Todd, which results in the demon barber’s first kill. Mrs. Lovett also remembers him from the old days, but was in love with him even then. His secret is safe with her, and she’s happy to take the extra “meat” off his hands.
Todd later finds out that the judge adopted Joanna, and helps a young sailor with his plot to rescue her. His thirst for blood and vengeance begin to run rampant, and lead to his undoing.
What I thought of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
I don’t make a secret of it, I am a huge Johnny Depp fan. But, I also don’t go out of my way to collect everything he does, either. In the relentless cycle of seeking and gathering cheap movies, the Mister and I have collected a very eclectic mix of films, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was a wonderful piece of filmmaking to have on hand when I needed an infusion of the gothic in my everyday life. Sweeney Todd tickles the same place that Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton always do for me, and I encourage fans of either to check out this film.
Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter were both complete and fabulous surprises when it came to their voice talent, not to mention the talented Alan Rickman in the role of Todd’s nemesis. Though Depp doesn’t boast a stage-worthy voice, the grit and tone fit the character well. The musical and the visual storytelling was incredible. I was especially pleased with how many male-male duets there were in this film, which is unusual in musicals in general. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I heard about another pairing of director Tim Burton’s bride (Carter) and Depp once again. It seemed a bit forced at the time. But they were AMAZING in their roles as Todd and the nefarious Mrs. Lovett.
A warning to potential viewers, there is a LOT of casual blood in this film. The splatter-ridden visuals makes for a very stunning splash across the black and white palette of the background (not unlike another Depp film, Sleepy Hollow). However, it can be a lot to handle for a viewer who is just looking for some pretty harmonies.