Movie review: Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Movie review: Sweeney Todd

A dark and sinister Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp and a wide-eyed leading lady. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Twice, in fact. But the similarities with two of their earlier collaborations: ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and ‘Sleepy Hollow’, pretty much end there.

For starters, Sweeney Todd is a musical, albeit a rather unconventional and gloriously bloody one. The film is based on the infamous tale of London barber-cum-serial killer Benjamin Barker. Upon returning to his Fleet Street flat above Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) pie shop after fifteen years in unwarranted exile, Barker assumes the name Sweeney Todd and swears revenge on Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), the man responsible for deporting Todd and robbing him of his wife and daughter.

When Todd learns that Turpin publicly raped his wife – who subsequently poisons herself – and has adopted his daughter as his ward, he surreptitiously decides to start cutting the throats of his unsuspecting customers. He then donates their bodies to Mrs. Lovett, providing the ingredients for her much-loved meat pies. Well, we all grieve differently, don’t we?

With any Tim Burton movie you’re almost guaranteed spectacular production design, fantastic costumes and a dramatic, soaring musical score – and Sweeney Todd is no exception. The recreation of Victorian London and its eerily-lit cobbled streets is reminiscent of another Depp film, the Hughes brothers’ 2001 Jack the Ripper flick ‘From Hell’. What comes as a pleasant surprise however are the impressive vocal performances by the movie’s cast – particularly Depp, who delivers Stephen Sondheim’s wickedly playful lyrics with panache.

As with his 1999 ghost story ‘Sleepy Hollow’, Burton favours a predominantly British supporting cast for Sweeney Todd. The film showcases an abundance of thespian talent including Bonham Carter, Rickman, and Timothy Spall. Even the Prime Minister from ‘Little Britain’ (Anthony Head) turns up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. There is also a brief but delightful appearance by Sacha Baron Cohen as rival barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli. I’m loath to admit that I unwittingly scoured Pirelli’s flamboyant Italian banter for traces of Borat, but Baron Cohen is a master of accents and not a hint of the inept Kazak reporter can be heard.

It’s Depp however, who truly shines (doesn’t he always?) – his performance is nothing short of magnificent and fully deserving of its Best Actor Oscar nod.

Ignore any reservations you may have about Sweeney Todd and go see it for what it is – a highly entertaining, visually stunning and magnificently gory two-hour musical massacre.

I knew it – it is possible to write a review of a Tim Burton movie without once using the word ‘gothic’. Oh, bugger.

Rating 4/5


How a Swedish film festival is offering a nurse downtime during pandemic

A front-line Swedish nurse is getting some Covid downtime with a week of private screenings of the Gothenburg film festival, in a former lighthouse off the country's west coast.

How a Swedish film festival is offering a nurse downtime during pandemic
Competition winner Lisa Enroth.

More than 12,000 candidates from 45 countries applied to watch the festival's films in almost near isolation on an island 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Stockholm.

The prize is a week viewing as many of the festival's 70 premieres as they like in a hotel in the former Pater Noster Lighthouse. But they will be in isolation and will have no access to their own computer or laptop.

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The bright-red lighthouse, built on a tiny island off Sweden's west coast in 1868, is surrounded by a scattering of squat, red buildings originally built to house the lighthouse keeper's family. It can only be reached by boat or helicopter, depending on the weather.

After a series of interviews and tests, festival organisers chose emergency nurse and film buff Lisa Enroth for the prize, in keeping with the 2021 festival's theme, Social Distances.

Before boarding a small speedboat out to the island on the clear, chill winter's morning, Enroth said she had applied not only out of her love for the cinema, but also to seek respite from her hectic work as an emergency nurse during the pandemic.

“It has been hectic, so it's a nice opportunity just to be able to land and to reflect over the year,” she said.

Months working amid Covid crisis

Sweden, which has taken a light-touch approach to the pandemic compared to its neighbours, has been facing a stronger than expected second wave of the virus. So far, more than 11,500 people have died from Covid-19 across the country.

Enroth works in the emergency ward of a hospital in Skovde in central Sweden. Since the start of the pandemic, her hospital's work caring for virus patients on top of their regular workload has been intense.

Lisa Enroth on her way to the remote festival location. Photo: AFP

“We had a lot of Covid cases during this year and every patient that has been admitted to the hospital has been passing through the emergency ward,” she told journalists.

The organisers said they were surprised by the numbers of applicants for the prize but were confident they had chosen the right candidate — not only for her love of cinema.

“She has also dedicated this past year in the frontline against the Covid-19 pandemic,” the festival's creative director Jonas Holmberg said to AFP.

“That's also one of the reasons we chose her”. 

Isolated screenings

Boarding the boat dressed in a thick survival suit, Enroth sped over the calm, icy waters, jumping off in the island's tiny harbour and disappearing into her lodgings.

A screen has been set up in the lantern room at the top of the windswept island's lighthouse, offering a 360-degree view of the sea and coastline around.

Another wide screen has been set up in one of the island's buildings.

Enroth will also have a tablet and headphones if she wants to watch films elsewhere on the island, which measures just 250 metres by 150 metres.

With only one other person staying permanently on the island — a safety precaution — Enroth's only contact with the outside world will be through her video diary about the films she has viewed.

The festival's films will be shown online and two venues in Gothenburg itself will allow screenings for just one person at a time.

Holmberg, the festival's creative director, said he hoped events like these would maintain interest in the industry at a time when many screens are closed because of pandemic restrictions.

“We are longing so much to come back to the cinemas and in the meantime we have to be creative and do the things that we can to create discussion,” he told journalists.