Making the Grades
No doubt you have heard some of the more popular music from Sweeney Todd, the musical that began on Broadway in 1979. The melodious Pretty Women and the truly beautiful lyrics from Not While I'm Around are some of the most remembered songs from the stage of modern live theater. And they are featured in this movie with their complete musical score. But for those not familiar with the story behind the production, you may want to take a moment to learn a little more about The Demon Barber of Fleet Street before you pay him a visit at the box office.
In this film adaptation, the bleak streets of 19th Century London are recreated in dramatic detail, providing the perfect environment for us to observe the moral decay of Benjamin Barker, a barber who is sent to jail for fifteen years on false charges by Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who fancied his wife. After Barker's returns, he determines to be unrecognizable and assumes the pseudonym of Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp). Finding an upstairs space to set up shop, he begins using his razor in a whole new way.
At first Mr. Todd's murderous plans are pure vengeance. With help from Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the pie shop owner downstairs, he engineers a scheme to lure the judge into his chair for a very close shave. But when another competitive barber, Signor Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen), recognizes Todd from his past life, panic sets in and the blade-yielding maniac begins his life as a serial killer.
Things turn darker when he turns to Mrs. Lovett for suggestions on what to do with the body. Her specialty is meat pies, and with the price of beef being so high, she sees a profitable solution for disposing of Pirelli's remains. With a starving customer base that obviously doesn't have the most sophisticated of palates, the ingredient substitution is a boon for business. In the days ahead, Mr. Todd begins slaughtering customers by the dozens, sending their corpses down a chute to the basement where Mrs. Lovett prepares them for the next day's offerings.
Unwittingly drawn into this macabre muddle is Toby (Ed Sanders). The young lad, who was a slave to Signor Pirelli, believes he has found a safe refuge in Mrs. Lovett's home. But even as she holds him in her arms and croons Not While I'm Around into his ear, you know there are more devious plans ahead.
Spurting blood like a cheap horror film, this production is guaranteed to take your appetite away. Sweeney's slashings are detailed beyond reality, with red liquid bursting from the necks of his victims, and their bodies plummeting into the dungeon below. Parts of corpses are seen in a huge meat grinder and a belching furnace removes the unwanted excess. All this is portrayed in a dark comedic tone with operatic style music punctuating the action. By comparison, other content seems trivial. Women are seen in low cut dresses, and the language includes uses of scatological expletives.
Stylish and impeccably performed, there is no questioning the artistic integrity of this production. However, unless you are comfortable with a lot of blood and cannibalism served with your comedy, there's a good chance you will never listen to the tunes from this musical again without conjuring up the vivid images found in this movie.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Sweeney Todd is a character that has shown up in English literature since the early 1800s. Why do you think such dark people attract so much curiosity? Do you think it’s possible to extract humor from stories involving such grisly details?
Home Video Viewing Alternatives
Here are some ideas for home video titles that are related to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
The stars of this production can be seen in more family-friendly fare. Look for Johnny Depp in The Pirates of the Caribbean series. Alan Rickman plays the role of Snape in the Harry Potter series. And Helena Bonham-Carter lent her voice to the character of Lady Tottington in the animated film Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.