In the Victorian London, the barber Benjamin Barker is married to the gorgeous Lucy and they have a lovely child, Johanna. The beauty of Lucy attracts the attention of the corrupt Judge Turpin, who falsely accuses the barber of a crime that he did not commit and abuses Lucy later after gaining custody of her. After fifteen years in exile, Benjamin returns to London under the new identity of Sweeney Todd, seeking revenge against Turpin. He meets the widow Mrs. Lovett who is the owner of a meat pie shop who tells him that Lucy swallowed arsenic many years ago, and Turpin assigned himself tutor of Johanna. He opens a barber shop above her store, initiating a crime rampage against those who made him suffer and lose his beloved family.
The set designed by Burton in collaboration with Dante Ferretti, who had worked with Fellini, De Palma and Scorsese are especially ingenious. They create a powerful impression, borrowing features from boh the Gotham City of Batman movies and the industrial streetscape that opens “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.
Sweeney Todd is the return of an Edward who is as desperate as magnificent. Seventeen years later, Edward returns under another name: Sweeney Todd. His face has aged but it has not really changed. Edward seems to be in a sorry state: he know he has hands, but his harm is only complete, he sighs, when he has the razor in his land, and he takes up his old profession, cutting hair. Something has changed in the character’s inner nature. Innocence has gone and his heart has turned into a hard, dry stone, harbouring nothing but hatred for others and demanding revenge.
Depp is still the same Burtinian hero, the same complex, imaginative, sensitive, uneasy “feminine” child, despite his harder features.
Edward has come back, bruised and bitter, to turn his scissors and blades into weapons against the society that rejected him.
The story takes place in a mid-nineteenth-century London, where society is rigid and puritanical, with judges as merciless as they are corrupt, and the public hungry for novelty and powerfull sensations. The city was recreated in the studio by Burton, a gigantic, grey macrocosm, swarming with life, echoing to screams and bustling with activity.
Sweeney Todd is a “musical tragedy”, an opera devoid of hope. Even the heroes are evil: the child who helps the couple to succeed in their macabre business is, of course, manipulated, but he is also an alcoholic, hypocritical and corrupted; Baker’s wife has turned into a mad, pertiferous old woman spouting predicrions of the end of the world that nobody listens to. Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett are irremediable: they love killing. It’s a matter of revenge for him, and one of economic necessity for her. Depp and Bonham Carter are the more disquieting in these terriflying roles since they are relatively young.
Sweeney Todd cuts the throats of the innocent and the guilty alike, ordinary members of society as well as those on its margins: every man who enters his salon unaccompained descends to that Hell, astonished himself by the quantity of blood that spurts from his gaping throat. The blood is omnipresent: it’s a cannibalistic methaphor for an inhuman civilization in which the sign of omnipotence consist on crushing one’s neighbourm and eating them.