Did we like it?
Great stuff – slightly odd it wasn’t more prominent in the Christmas/New Year schedule but maybe that was because of the particularly gory scenes. We had some reservations, but we’re not going to knock the BBC for spending cash on quality like this.
What was good about it?
• Just the very fact it was Sweeney Todd. The character evokes fascination in just about everyone – sometimes as a gruesome murderer, sometimes as a more comical character. This bordered on horror.
• Ray Winstone in the eponymous role. He could have been born for the part (indeed, it was notable that he was also an exec producer). Brilliant throughout, he managed to look dignified, even sympathetic when wearing his period wig, but positively animalistic when bald, sweating, hacking at human meat, which was also a nice juxtaposition to his clinical, surgeon-like work with the razor when he was in the shop.
• The first murder was filmed with great panache, setting the stall out for the whole series of them. Even though his method was the same almost every time, the director, David Moore, managed to make them all look slightly different. One image that particularly lingered was a squirt of inky blood splashing against the mirror.
• The psychology behind the murders was interesting. The first one was because the jailer had roused hatred in Todd from his own 20 years serving in gaol for a crime he didn’t commit, the second was because he’d only just managed to stop himself from slitting the throat of his own father and it was a release of pure anger and frustration. From there it seemed to be a compulsion, wrapped up in childhood trauma and jealousy. At times perhaps there wasn’t enough of a reason for the killings (at the end he admitted it was “because I could”), but you could also argue the story of Sweeney Todd was never much concerned with subtlety.
• Todd’s tender relationship with his young apprentice, who he was forced to let go, either through a wish to protect him from seeing the murders, to protect him from being murdered, or as a precaution against being caught.
• The interesting relationship between Todd and Matthew the policeman. Matthew sees Todd as a hero after he pulled a bullet from his shoulder to save his life, so he can’t quite believe it when he stumbles on the truth. Todd kills him, of course, and then agonises over it and makes sure he has a proper funeral.
• In fact, all Todd’s relationships were interesting – his hatred for his father, his love of his dead mother and his almost paternal love and jealous, animal lust for Mrs Lovett, the maker of the fantastic pies…
• The virtually unwatchable scene where Todd removes a large kidney stone from the body of Mr Lovett – men holding him down and Todd shoving all kinds of instruments into his body.
• The unstinting representations of disease in Victorian London – particularly the malnourished young apprentice boy and Mrs Lovett’s gruesome illness.
• The final shot of a satisfied Sweeney Todd, a reddening, widening extra smile sliced into his own throat by his own hand.
What was bad about it?
• The jarring continuity error just a minute or so in when Todd was shaving a customer, only for an edit to be made and foam to suddenly reappear on the customer’s face.
• Mrs Lovett’s dodgy cockney accent.
• It seemed slightly odd that it took so long for Todd to come under suspicion for the murders, after all, plenty of people were disappearing. To that end, there was very little information about the police investigation – maybe more might have seen a little more suspense and cause some unease in the audience who could find themselves hoping Todd would get away. That guilty pleasure was certainly there, but could have been enhanced by the sense that the police were converging upon him.
• Todd’s famous trapdoor was shown from below with the noise of a body falling into it, but we never saw the construction for it. It obviously happened when he moved the business upstairs, but it was an aspect of the murders that was rather skated over.