Happiness is an elusive friend that we can spend our whole life chasing. If the world looks favourably upon us we may be fortunate enough to catch it and then hope to grasp it firmly by hand for the rest of our lives. As with any great friend that we walk with on our life’s journey, there are those jealous and decidedly unscrupulous types who wish to steal our friend for their own.
For a short time Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) would have been considered a happy man. He had a successful profession, a beautiful wife and a gorgeous baby daughter. The happily-ever-after fairytale could almost be considered complete. But (and there is always a but), powerful man-about-town Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) catches a glimpse of this almost perfect picture and desires to possess it for himself. With the help of his greasy henchman Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall), Turpin has Barker wrongfully arrested and shipped off to prison in Australia. With Barker out of the picture, Turpin is now able to step into his space and take what was never freely offered.
During the fifteen years of Barker’s imprisonment he is seduced by that other most powerful of friends who often springs to our defence in the darkest and most desperate times of need. Sometimes the only way to retain a semblance of sanity and protect ourselves from complete obliteration is to rest in the clutches of revenge. Thus Benjamin Barker is reborn as Sweeney Todd.
The film contains a trifecta of irresistible treats in the form of Tim Burton as Director, Johnny Depp as Barker / Sweeney, and Helena Bonham-Carter as Sweeney’s scheming accomplice, Mrs Nellie Lovett. Firstly, Burton always guarantees a true visual spectacle, and with his careful and considered eye for the beauty and wonder of contrasts, we can trust that his films will provide a sensory experience. Secondly, Helena Bonham Carter is wonderfully surreal, and utterly captivating. Whatever character she is portraying on screen she manages to add some unique part of herself into the role, resulting in an entertaining and radiant performance. And then finally there’s Johnny Depp…well for many reasons he is an absolute joy to watch. In Sweeney Todd he handles the difficult score with ease and once again delivers a heartbreakingly true embodiment of the character he inhabits. He is a master of conveying subtle underlying emotions, so that through his performance we come to understand why Barker had to become Todd, even though we never stop hoping that Barker will once more return to the surface.
While ordinarily even the hint of a musical chills me to my core, there is enough story and substance to be found in Sweeney Todd that I am captured regardless. And yes while there is music, there is also plenty of blood, but at least here it has a place as a vital part of the story. The red, red blood and the vividness of the music combine in glorious fashion to showcase the operatic drama of the story and highlight the dramatic evolution of Barker to Todd. Ultimately at its heart Sweeney Todd is a tragic love story which explores both the sweetness and insistent passion of first love and the consuming bitterness which arises from a love interrupted. It is a story which offers both a visual and emotional transformation that is well worth the experience.