The Tale of Sweeney Todd

Dir: John Schlesinger
Star: Ben Kingsley, Campbell Scott, Joanna Lumley, Selina Boyack

Ok, while this may be the third version of the story seen and reviewed here since June, we couldn't resist seeing Kingsley as the killer barber, or Lumley as his pie-making accomplice. This does take a radically-different approach, with little effort made to make Todd in any way sympathetic: from the start, he's already killing customers, and it's not for revenge, simply because... Well, he likes the taste of human flesh. Even though this was made several years before Kingsley's defining role in Sexy Beast, he exudes much the same menace, albeit with a different, ah, flavour. Into their world comes Carlyle (Scott), on a mission to retrieve a stash of diamonds held in a merchant's safe. Only, said merchant is now enjoying a new vocation as pie-filling, and the key to the safe is down in Todd's cellar. He falls for Lucy, Todd's ward since her father died in Africa while with him; the specific details of that demise are strongly hinted at, though never quite revealed.

The whole is a bit less than the sum of its ingredients: each of the performances are fine, yet they don't mesh, almost seeming to come from separate movies. It's Kingsley's film, however, and whenever he is on screen, the film is hypnotizing. Scott, in contrast, seems shoe-horned in to the film to appeal to an American audience: some of his dialogue, in particular an anti-British rant, comes across as very anachronistic, though the setting is not too long after the American Revolution, so is perhaps justified by that. The period atmosphere is nicely grubby, to say the least: this is definitely not a time in which you want to live, even if the gore content is negligible compare to the arterial founting of the Burton version. However, by the end, undeniable story fatigue had set in for me, since I found myself all too familiar with where the movie was going - though it's hard to say how much is the fault of the film as such. I think after this, we are probably done with the Todd genre for the foreseeable future.

[November 2008]

Hair-raising tale
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