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[Cinema Sunday] ‘Sweeney Todd’ – Demon Barbers and Bad Judges

by Joshua Winchester
Sweeney Todd
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“You’re in a merry mood today, Mr. Todd.” – Judge Turpin

As the weather shifts across the country, cold in some places while others are getting warm fronts, there is still that pervasive urge to stay indoors and relax. In times like those, a worthy solution is to kick back with a nice movie. In keeping with the theme of honoring Alan Rickman this month, it is time to take a trip back to 2007 to another film wherein he played a worthy role. Not as Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but a decidedly darker role. So come along and thrill and chill at the horrible wonders awaiting within Sweeney Todd.

Tim and Alan on set

Directed and guided by the brilliant hand of Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd was and is another cinematic triumph for the man. With such films under his belt at the time as Sleepy Hollow, Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands and of course two Batman movies, is it any wonder that he would pick up a musical with such dark and tragic themes. Burton is known for helming pieces that have serious undertones, and with Sweeney Todd, it’s another notch on his belt. Part of that notch is thanks to the casting choice for Judge Turpin.

Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) is a vile and despicable figure of Victorian London society. A man of the law who thinks only of himself and deals out unjust decisions from the bench. This, however, is not the worst of his crimes. The worst crime is what also leads to eventual demise. Years ago, in coveting the wife of barber Benjamin Barker, Turpin sentences Barker to serve time in the penal colony of Australia so that Lucy Barker is all his. Yet in his eager vileness, Lucy takes poison to end her suffering, leaving her infant daughter to be taken in by the judge. And thus begins another step on the journey to a well-deserved end at the hands of Benjamin Barker/Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp).

Like all musicals (especially those of a more serious nature), the songs and score reflect the story and characters. For a tale such as this, of love, loss, murder and revenge, it’s a panoply of songs that are neither cheery nor upbeat. Such a song is the one between Judge Turpin and Sweeney Todd. Both sing of women, of loving them, wooing them. All the while, Turpin sits in the barber chair, awaiting his shave. Little does he know that the shave will not only be a close one, but a fatal one.

While the story of Sweeney Todd is neither happy nor pleasant, it is still a compelling tale/musical. Burton’s shots of London are fabulous and the whole casting helps strengthen film, from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter to, of course, Alan Rickman. If there was ever a movie musical that deserved much high praise, it is this one.

As February’s end comes closer, a moment of reflection on Alan Rickman’s career. Playing roles both heroic and villainous, even parts like Judge Turpin only served to heighten his fame and notability as an actor. And while so many others will only remember him for playing Professor Snape, let the example of Judge Turpin, as with other movies he acted in, all solidify him in human memory. So on this cold Sunday, if you’re feeling a bit musical and maniacal, treat oneself to a movie musical delight. Treat yourself to a shave and a story, courtesy of Mr. Sweeney Todd.

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