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Film / Sweeney Todd

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Sweeney Todd is a film made by the BBC in 2006. It is mostly based on the original legend of Sweeney Todd, as written by Preskett Prest (or Rymer) in The String of Pearls but deviates from this somewhat as well as including elements from Sondheim's musical. It gives Sweeney a Dark and Troubled Past (read: Freudian Excuse) and fleshes out his relationship with Mrs Lovett.

Quite apart from the other known adaptations, most of which are set in the Victorian era (and very well project the part), this adaptation actually moves the setting further back in time, to somewhere in the mid-18th century, around when King George III was a young man, as evidenced by all the powdered wigs and tricornes. The original story may have been written in the Victorian era, but as it was apparently a period piece even for its time, the creators of this adaptation sought to recreate more of the original, mid-Georgian setting.


This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Both Sweeney and Mrs Lovett. They're actually pretty nice people, both of them, once you get past the murder, cannibalism and sexual perversion.
  • Antagonist Title: Provided you consider Sweeney an antagonist... this is debatable.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Sweeney himself... when it comes to abortions, at least.
  • Bald of Evil: Underneath all his era-defining, 18th-century wigs (which he makes himself), Sweeney sports a shiningly bald, rotund head.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. It's actually a plot point; Mrs Lovett can't bear the thought of her beauty being damaged, and has to come to terms with it.
  • Blatant Lies: "I did what I could..."
  • British Stuffiness: "Have you been... intimate... with him?" Justified in that it's set in the mid-1700s.
  • Coitus Ensues
  • Crazy Jealous Guy
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  • Dangerously Close Shave: Particularly towards the end of the film where Sweeney can barely restrain himself.
  • Deus Angst Machina:
    • Sweeney's mother gets consumption when he's seven, sending him away so that he doesn't get to be by her side as she dies. His dad is a crooked arsehole who manages to get Sweeney's brother hanged and Sweeney imprisoned for twenty years for his crimes. No wonder the poor guy goes crazy.
    • Mrs Lovett is married to a horrible man who beats her, then falls in love with somebody who seems protective, kind and understanding but is actually a serial killer.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sweeney offs himself by his own razor whilst awaiting his own hanging in Newgate, on the pretext that he wanted to shave himself before he goes. It's partly to beat his jailers at their own game so that he goes out on his own terms.
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  • The Dung Ages: Georgian London, despite being between the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution, is still disgustingly filthy in places, the streets filling with mud after the rains, and the air presumably redolent with the stench of decaying garbage, excrement, and of course corpses, including those of Sweeney's victims. A lot of characters often hold their noses when business takes them through London's back-alleys and open sewers.
  • Evil Brit: Quite possibly the most famous evil Brit in fiction.
  • Fat Bastard: Sweeney is fairly portly.
  • Gorn: Some.
  • Green-Eyed Monster
  • Hanging Judge: Whoever sentenced Sweeney to 20 years' imprisonment in Newgate Gaol and his brother to be hanged—when both weren't even in their teens. Sir John Fielding, while more of a police chief/investigator than a judge, is a notable subversion.
  • Ho Yay: A certain "thank you for saving my life" hug.
  • I'm a Humanitarian
  • If I Can't Have You...: Sweeney. Despite refusing to sleep with Mrs Lovett himself, he proceeds to kill on all of her subsequent lovers. After watching them do it...
  • Ill Girl: Mrs Lovett. Also, Sweeney's mother, though she never appears as a character.
  • Love Hungry: Both Sweeney and Mrs Lovett. In a literal sort of way.
  • Meatgrinder Surgery: Justified, given the time frame. Sweeney isn't incompetent for a man of his day.
  • Mercy Kill: Sweeney ends up stabbing Mrs Lovett and slashing her throat too, after she despairs of ever escaping London and has to abandon her dream of going to the colonies, preferably together with him.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: More like "Murder The Hypotenuses", plural. One after the other.
  • Nice Hat: This being Georgian instead of Victorian London, tricornes instead of top hats are all the rage amongst the men, and the women wear bonnets.
  • Not So Stoic: Sweeney's facade slips when he talks about the death of his mother. It slips a good deal more shortly afterwards.
  • The Peeping Tom: And not played for laughs.
  • Really Gets Around: Mrs Lovett. Sadly, she pays the price.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The blind Sir John Fielding, London's then sort-of chief of police; he's soft-spoken, doesn't go around convicting or hanging innocent and guilty indiscriminately like many a Hanging Judge of his era would, methodically goes about his task (helped by constables like Matthew) of investigating the missing victims and their killer, and doesn't get into any righteous-fury fits when Sweeney confesses his crimes, only seeking to ask him why he committed them. It helps that Fielding gets top-quality shaves from him regularly, and the two come to engage in pretty civil conversation at times, even despite Sweeney's reputation as also "the quietest barber in London". Fielding's even personally regretful to see him hung, even if he agrees that justice will obviously be served.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Heartbreakingly deconstructed. Mrs Lovett, after the convenient death of her abusive husband, falls in love with what she thinks is a good man, not realising that he was responsible for the above convenient death.
  • Tongue Trauma: Sweeney chops off his dad's tongue when the latter begins to suspect his complicity in the disappearance of his customers. That way he can't squeal on his own son to Fielding and his men (nor do so in writing, for that matter, as he's illiterate), and as he was blackout drunk at the time, he can't recall who did it anyway.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Well, given that any modern retelling of the Sweeney Todd legend runs on this the way cars do on petrol, it's not really a surprise.
  • What Does She See in Him?: The BBC do everything in their power to avert this where Sweeney is concerned. Mrs Lovett's reasons for loving him (initially, at least) are very plausible. Her care for her first husband, a Jerkass wife-beater without a single redeeming feature, is a much straighter example of the trope.

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