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Sweeney Todd (film review)

Posted on February 10, 2013 at 9:20 AM

Set in the filthy streetscapes of Victorian London, Sweeney Todd (Tim Burton, 2005) might be described as a “horror musical”, revolving around themes of revenge, cannibalism and hairdressing. The film, like most of Burton’s work, is black humoured and extravagantly gothic. All of the characters, from Depp’s blood-thirsty barber, to Rickman’s sadistic Judge Turpin, are deathly pale, with black rings around their eyes. The city of London is a nightmarish fantasy of industrialism. Grey chimney’s creep over the horizon, polluting the sky with a thick haze that bathes the landscape in an eerie shadow. The streets are an open sewer of poverty and corruption, represented by the narrow alley-ways, the mud-soaked cobblestones, the oppressive smog, and the hustle and bustle of desperate, world-weary souls. This imagery contributes to the gothic tone of the film, and lives up to Todd’s grim assessment of London as a “great black pit”. But of course Todd is also projecting his own melancholy onto the city, formed by the loss of his wife and daughter decades’ prior.


The music in the film is gloriously entertaining. Special mention goes to Depp’s barber-ous showdown with a flamboyant Italian, played by Sasha Baron Cohen; as well as Depp’s duet with Carter, in which the pair discovers a new pie filling that will make your skin crawl. While none of the top-billed actors are particularly gifted at singing, their acting skills bring so much emotion and charisma to the performance, and the sequences work splendidly.


Characters contend themselves to gothic archetypes. Bright-eyes sailor Anthony plays the passive hero, who rescues the psychologically tortured maiden, Joanna, from the clutches of sinisterly powerful Judge Turpin. Todd is really the only character who doesn’t quite fit the Gothic mould, embodying more of Greek hero of tragedy. Todd’s desire is vengeance, and his soul is gradually consumed by it. Even when his daughter Joanna is in danger, Todd’s only motive to rescue her, is to lure Judge Turpin into a trap. By the end, Todd’ love from his family has been completely poisoned by his lust for blood. So much so, that he fails to even recognise his wife and daughter.

Categories: ARTICLES, Cinema

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