When I sat down to enjoy Sweeney Todd again the weekend before the Oscars, I was under the impression that it had won in 2007 for Best Picture. I was wrong: that honor went to No Country for Old Men, another film with a high creep score. Of course, for pure spine tingling, it’s hard to beat The Silence of the Lambs, the Best Picture Oscar winner for 1991. Sweeney Todd did win a much-deserved Oscar for art direction, however, and Johnny Depp was nominated for best actor. It does need to be said that this film is not for the faint of heart, since it is about a barber who slits his clients’ throats and a woman who then bakes their bodies into pies.
As for the movie itself, I admit I am biased. I love Stephen Sondheim, and Sweeney Todd is probably my favorite musical of his. I knew I was going to like the film from the beginning of the opening credits with its gothic score. Depp, as the title character, and Helena Bonham Carter, as Mrs. Lovett, had never really sung before, certainly not in a movie, and Sondheim is notoriously difficult. Both acquit themselves well. Part of what makes the composer tricky is that he requires serious acting in addition to smart singing. Since both Depp and Carter have been nominated multiple times for Oscars (neither has won), they were halfway there.
The supporting cast, with Alan Rickman as the evil Judge Turpin and Timothy Spall as the creepy and revolting Beadle Bamford, is also strong both singing and acting. Tim Burton, the director, adds his characteristically gothic style which is perfectly suited to this piece. While the chorus that moved things along and covered scene changes in the theatrical version is gone, one really doesn’t miss them because Burton keeps things hurtling to the bloody and catastrophic finale.