The broadsheets haven’t been kind to Sweeney Todd. The Grauniad bemoaned Tim Burton discarding the play’s critique of capitalism while The Sunday Times was upset that there weren’t any proper tunes in Sondheim’s score. Oh, wait, I got that the wrong way round. The Times wanted more class activism, The Graun wanted something to hum. What is the world coming to?
It’s an excellent film. I found watching it a harrowing experience, as much from its psychological aspects as from the actual close shaves. The violence was a long time in coming as everything slowly fell into place (or possibly apart), and when it finally arrived it was visceral but matter-of fact which made it all the worse. A savage slash and few gurgles and that’s it. Apart from the final scene, which had both a deeper feeling of dread and even worse atrocities pervading it.
The criticism I’ve read of the acting is space filler. Burton got a good performance out of Alan Rickman ferchrissakes, the one that Rickman always feels and that if you were sat in the stalls of a theatre or behind the camera on a set that you would feel but that, like all supernatural auras, usually never quite gets captured by technology. Burton gets Helena Bonhma Carter and Ali G to give performances that go from comic to tragic in the space of a few moments without ever being annoying. And if Johnny Depp doing some unsubtle emoting rather than actually acting would please broadsheet critics then that’s just another reason to ignore them.
I found listening to the film confusing to begin with. It’s The Muses’ revenge on me for every time I have ever been unsympathetic to someone who doesn’t get modern art. The words pole-dance around the music. The music is complex and fleeting. But I got into it, and by the time the worst pies in London were on the table I could find my way around it.
The punchline works thanks to some masterful misdirection of the viewer’s attention, and the film ends at precisely the moment it should. In the soundtrack album notes, Burton mentions Hammer’s horror films as one of his points of inspiration, and I think this is the kind of film the old Hammer would make now. If they did musicals and had Tim Burton as a director.