‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ movie review: Tim Burton musical a blast


Gorgeous, gothic Grand Guignol based on the Stephen Sondheim musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street just might be director Tim Burton’s masterpiece. 

A blood-soaked tale of revenge undercut by soulful song and dance, this twisted film may be too subversive for general audiences but should delight fans of the director; rarely has his vision been presented so uncompromised. 

Todd is rare among recent musicals in that it manages to escape the genre trappings and work on its own level; rather than the musical numbers taking us out of the story, they seem to serve as a welcome relief from the oppressive nature of the narrative and visuals.

A restrained but menacing Johnny Depp stars as the titular character, once known as Benjamin Barker; there’s some hints of Edward Scissorhands in his pale-faced, wild-haired appearance. 

Barker was once happily married with daughter before the jealous Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) sent him to Australia and stole his family; years later, Barker, now Sweeney Todd, returns to a fog-drenched London and sets up shop above Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) Meat Pie store while plotting his bloody revenge. 

Soon Mrs. Lovett is offering the meatiest pies in London despite a supposed lack of resources. Cast is perfect, including a surprising Sacha Baron Cohen as a stereotypical but never quite over-the-top Italian barber. 

Content is a perfect match for Burton’s visual style, as is, surprisingly, the musical genre; the director’s perceived weaknesses as a storyteller fit perfectly in a film where plot is one of the less important elements. 

Victorian London has always had something special on the screen, but never before has it been more vividly unappealing; production design by Dante Ferretti is flawless. Film must be seen theatrically for the full effect.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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