There is no doubt to my obsession with the film version of ‘Sweeney Todd’. And don’t misjudge my love, I’ve seen a stage version of Stephen Sondheim’s musical which was gory and haunting in much the same way, but despite the lack of vocal strength in the film, I keep going back to it time after time.
There’s no denying Johnny Depp is part of this charm. He is scary, and he is charming, and he leaves you confused over loving or hating the protagonist. For a man whose “Irish” accent came under heavy fire in ‘Chocolat’, his Cockney ain’t half bad, and his singing voice is perhaps the strongest in the film. And stood beside him is the ever-delightful Helena Bonham Carter, playing obsession and love simultaneously to create a gruesomely tragic lead female, meaning we can forgive her lack of vocal range because she’s just so damn good at hooking us into her character.
And where there’s a protagonist, there’s a suave and manipulative antagonist in he form of Alan Rickman, whose Judge Turpin is just so silky smooth in presentation you can see how he greased the pole to power to keep himself at the top and others at the bottom. Indeed, two of my favourite lines in the film are due to his talent for making everything sound powerful, threatening and intoxicating: ‘You gandered at her, yes sir you gandered at her’ and ‘You’ll kill me boy?! Well here I stand!’ He’s not far behind Depp in singing skills, and he’s just so brutal in his attempts to find companionship you have to watch him get his comeuppance, even if it’s at the expense of Todd’s own humanity.
Not forgetting the stellar supporting cast. From a brief appearance by the wonderful Anthony Head to more significant roles held by Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen, everyone pulls their weight: there is no weak link in the chain of this film. Spall’s sliminess (both his and Rickman’s characters have echoes of their Harry Potter roles, doubtlessly) riles you up to want him to go down with Judge Turpin, and likewise Cohen’s final rolling ‘Meester Todd’ practically has the viewer bringing the razor down before Todd can in condemnation.
Then there’s the music. How can you not revel in the grimy joie-de-vivre in every note, the sense that you want to join in but berate yourself slightly for celebrating the terrible nature of mankind or the tastiness of priest? They’re songs that aren’t pleasant, aren’t romantic, but are base and gritty and show the world for what it is (cannibalism aside, think more in metaphors). And there’s a class element to this; let’s not forget that it’s distinctly pleasurable to see ‘those above serving those down below’ for once in Victorian London.
It’s a film I will never tire of, I’m almost certain of it – it’s a rare thing to see every aspect of a project pull together so magnificently so that we’re really living it until the end, and to have triumph mingled with despair at failure, confusing you as to whether you support or condemn characters. I’m not saying it’s the most complex plot in the world, but it knows what it is: dirty, rotten and a bloody ride to revenge, without becoming hideously and psychologically dark so as to send you away with nightmares or the inability to walk past a red and white barbershop sign.
Nothing’s gonna harm you…not likely on Fleet Street.