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YMMV / Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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Both Versions

  • Complete Monster: The corrupt Judge Turpin, who runs a Kangaroo Court in Victorian London, begins Sweeney's Start of Darkness when, lusting after the then-younger barber's wife, Turpin has him imprisoned on a penal colony for decades of hard labor so he can seduce his wife. When she refuses, Turpin has her lured to his home under pretense of offering to free her husband—but rapes her instead, and steals her daughter as his ward. Turpin guards her jealously, having a younger sailor brutally beaten for looking at her and plans to marry her himself. When she refuses and tries to run away he sends her to an asylum where he knows she'll be mistreated. In the film, Turpin sentences a little boy to death by hanging—and then asks his sidekick, the Beadle Bamford, if the boy was even guilty of anything.

The musical

  • Adaptation Displacement: The musical has completely displaced Christopher Bond's play, to the point that Bond has directed productions of the musical instead of his original play.
    • Because the Sweeney Todd story was less well known in America than in England, Americans mostly know the character from the musical only.
  • Alternate Show Interpretation: The 2005 Broadway revival, in which all of the characters are portrayed as inmates enacting the events in a madhouse.
    • The 2012 West End production gave a Setting Update by placing the show in the 1930s.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: All over the place. Toby, for one. As the role is vocally demanding, adults are often cast in the part, which makes for the question of whether Toby is a kid or a mentally disabled man. For that note, the motives of the Beadle are ambiguous, whether he's a psychopath who's as bad as the judge or just a police officer who sincerely believes the judge is a good man. Then there's the matter of whether Anthony is a romantic hero who saves Johanna from the Judge or if he's a creepy stalker (albeit a major step-up from Judge Turpin).
    • Also, the casting of Sweeney Todd himself varies from actor to actor – George Hearn's Todd is powerfully built, with a boisterous, pitch-black sense of humor. His cackles after his Heroic BSoD (Or Villainous Breakdown / BSOD in this case) song end up matching Mrs. Lovett's Stepford Smiler evil. Johnny Depp's Todd is a waif of a man. He's a quiet, haunted misanthrope before he snaps, and a barely-functional sociopath after, having to be led around and prodded into action by Dark Genki Girl Mrs. Lovett.
      • Does Todd not react to Toby coming up behind him and slitting his throat at the end because he's too focused on grieving his dead wife to notice until it's too late, or is Todd so filled with shame and grief that he allows Toby to kill him?
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    • Johanna sometimes portrayed as insane from the beginning of the show. Actually, the libretto, especially "Kiss me", implies her to be at least paranoid and unstable. Also, she is the one who shoots Fogg. Could repeat that again – a demure young noble lady of late XVIII-early XIX century who never left her house and most probably never lifted anything heavier than a needle, never saw any blood and gore and couldn't see even a picture of a pistol shoots Fogg. She probably takes more after her father than anybody realizes.
      • Johanna can also be interpreted as genuinely in love with Anthony or just using him as a means to escape the Judge. The 2007 film, for example, went with the latter.
    • Judge Turpin, of all people, gets one depending on whether his song "Johanna" is removed or not. This song shows that he actually tried to resist the temptation Johanna was causing and even seems to imply that she was his Morality Pet. "Johanna, Johanna, I treasured you in innocence and loved you like a daughter".
      • Depending on the performance, it can also come off as though he's rationalizing what he wants to do.
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    • Does Mrs. Lovett genuinely care about Toby or just as uninterested in him as she is with everyone else other than Sweeney?
    • The 2014 concert hinted that Toby might be romantically interested in Mrs. Lovett and additionally featured a scene where the Beadle hits on her.
    • Mrs Lovett in general. Is she a Manipulative Bastard who is just as desperate as Todd to wreak vengeance on society, or is she a Broken Bird who is a victim more than anything? Is she genuinely in love with Todd, or is it more of a Stalker with a Crush deal? Does she mislead Todd about his wife's death because she wants to protect him from the truth, or because, again, Stalker with a Crush? The movie probably gave her the most sympathetic portrayal to date but she's been played as everything from that to complete raging psychopath.
  • Awesome Music: "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd", "Epiphany", and "A Little Priest", just to name a few. Well... really the entire song list (given the right cast) but bonus points go to "Johanna (Reprise)".
  • Broken Base: As is normally the case with shows, trying to discuss whoever played the title role (or Mrs Lovett) the best will bring the normally-peaceful fandom into an uproar, particularly when limited to the versions available on film. There's also a minor Broken Base over which concert version (2001 or 2014) was better in terms of spectacle and telling the story. Similarly the "child Toby" vs "mentally challenged Toby" debates quickly tend to become this.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Toby in the 2001 concert version, for some reason.
    • Toby in general is rather popular for being quite The Woobie and for being the only person who’s rightfully suspicious of Sweeney. This is reflected by his new status as the main point of view in the John Doyle revival, which only increased his popularity.
    • The Beggar Woman is also popular for her creepy but ultimately tragic demeanor. This became even more pronounced when later productions started to double cast her with Pirelli.
    • Despite being Judge Turpin’s henchman, Beadle Bamford has his fans for his hammy attitude and assortment of impressive high notes. The Doyle version was especially popular for his hilarious Cold Ham personality and being the primary piano player of the production.
  • Heartwarming Moments:
    • As tragic as the whole thing is, it's actually pretty sweet that Lucy spends her days hanging around her old house, or the house where her daughter is now living. She doesn't remember or recognize Johanna, but she still has enough maternal instinct left to want to be near her.
    • While Sweeney doesn't kill a man who comes in with his daughter mostly for practical reasons, some products have him give her a piece of candy or something, which is nice.
    • If you take a more favorable interpretation of Anthony, his part of "Johanna (Reprise)" becomes this, as it becomes a vow to Johanna, who at this point is locked away in a madhouse with God-knows-what being done to her, that he will find and rescue her, no matter what.
  • Ho Yay: In the movie, there seem to be overtones of this between Beadle Bamford and Judge Turpin. Mostly coming from Bamford's end, though it IS kinda odd that he seems to spend so much time with the judge...
    • Notably, in the stage musical it's made clear in the reprise in The Barber and His Wife that both Turpin and Bamford have a thing for Lucy. In the movie, however, the lyrics are changed so that only the Judge's affections are mentioned.
    • He may be only Turpin's Igor.
  • Incest Subtext: Todd's "Johanna (Reprise)", hinting it would be dangerous for him to meet Johanna if she looks too much like her mother...
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • Mrs. Lovett, who is something of a Love Martyr.
    • Todd probably more so. True, his method of vengeance once he snaps doesn't invite much sympathy, but his reasons for snapping? Just try not to feel the least bit sorry for him, you'll probably find it's nearly impossible.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • The "Poor Thing" scene with Judge Turpin and Lucy Barker, in which he rapes her after having sent her husband away for life on a false charge. Then he just keeps going.
    • The scene where Mrs. Lovett locks Toby in the meat-grinder basement so Sweeney can kill him. It was made clear that Mrs. Lovett understood what she was doing, since she was crying throughout. Creepy. Though she probably crossed it even earlier when she deliberately hid the truth about Lucy from Sweeney.
    • Sweeney killing the beggar woman, who ironically turns out to be his own wife, in his haste to leave no witnesses...followed by him almost killing his own daughter for the same reason.
      • One could argue that he crossed it the instant he decided to give in to despair and murder innocent people unlucky enough to wander into his barbershop.
  • Narm: Toby reciting pat-a-cake before slitting Todd's throat can be this if not executed properly.
  • Original Cast Precedent: It's typical for Judge Turpin to be played by a tall, thin man, while Beadle Bamford is a shorter, bigger actor. This fits the description of Edmund Lyndeck and Jack Eric Williams, who played the original roles.
  • Paranoia Fuel: A trip to the barber's or a pie shop both made very creepy for the Victorian audience. For the typical modern audiences, this story has made the straight razor unsettlingly best known as a weapon of murder.
    • The finale reprise of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" invokes this trope with its lyrics, culminating with the company shouting "There he is! It's Sweeney!" and pointing out at the audience.
    Perhaps today, you gave a nod
    To Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street?
    No one can help, nothing can hide you,
    Isn't that Sweeney there beside you?
  • Romantic Plot Tumor: The romance subplot between Johanna and Anthony, particularly in the film where Relationship Compression comes into play and Anthony is portrayed as an insufferable bishie wannabe.
    • On the other hand, another way to see them is as a parallel to the Todd/Lucy couple ("she was beautiful, and he was naive", particularly if you take the interpretations where Johanna is crazy into account)
  • Squick: The whole thing is pretty squicky, but Judge Turpin gets a special mention for "Johanna (Mea Culpa)," where he flagellates himself to orgasm while watching his teenaged ward through a keyhole. While singing. It was cut from the original Broadway production, and, unsurprisingly, it's only occasionally reinstated. When done well, the sequence can be one of the most chilling in the show...which is about serial murder and cannibalism.
    • "It's only occasionally reinstated..". That's actually not true at all. While the song was cut from the original Broadway and London productions, and the film version, most modern productions choose to put the song back in as it adds so much to Turpin as a character. The song has been reinstated in the concert versions, the Spanish productions, the 2005 Broadway revival, the 2012 London revival, the 2017 Off-Broadway production, most regional theatre productions, and many more.
      • The song is still only one of two in the score that remains completely optional (the other being the second part of the contest), and plenty of productions do choose to omit it on account of its squick-factor. Sondheim himself has said that the primary reason for the song's existence was because he wanted to be the first person to have a character orgasm in the middle of a song...
  • What an Idiot!:
    • Anthony when he bursts into Sweeney's barber shop in the midst of his shaving of Judge Turpin. What was he expecting?
    • One wonders why Sweeney takes Lovett's advice to be patient in plotting his revenge at heart, spending his sweet time singing along with Turpin about pretty women. What was he expecting? Although... see "Squick" above.
    • Mrs. Lovett, keeping Lucy a secret from Todd when she kept coming around her shop. Sweeney's shown no hesitation in killing anyone who's crossed him, particularly in regards to his family. What was she expecting?
    • Pirelli, confronting a man who's been in prison for fifteen years, and blackmailing him. What was he expecting?
    Youtube comment: Pirelli thinks it's a good idea to threaten a man who has a bunch of razors.
  • The Woobie:
    • Toby, poor kid.
    • Johanna too, seeing what she's had to live with.
    • The Beggar Woman.

The 2007 film

  • Awesome Music: The quiet interplay between Turpin and Todd in the film's arrangement of "Pretty Women," especially as it builds to that crescendo at the very end.
  • Creepy Awesome/Evil Is Sexy: Sweeney Todd
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Besides the fun songs, the theme and setting is grim, and most characters are jerks. Unlike the play, however, Johanna and Anthony escape safely into the night, allowing the hope they will get a happy ending.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin and Timothy Spall as the Beadle.
  • Genius Bonus: Pirelli boasts that he had Shaved the Pope himself, while mocking Sweeney that probably thinks it was only a Cardinal, followed by Toby showing a portrait of the Pope. Given that the story should take place in 1846, it was the same year that Pope Pius IX was elected Pope, which would explain how Pirelli might have really shaved the Italian cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti who became the Pope, giving him the edge by technicality.
    • Although the written "Thanks for da Shave - The Pope" on the portrait is rather suspicious on Pirelli's part. Not to mention that we later learn Pirelli is a false identity, giving further evidence that it was all just made up.
  • He Really Can Act (and sing!):
    • Keep in mind that this movie was released only one year after Borat whenever you see Sacha Baron Cohen as Pirelli. It was also his first role where you heard his real accent.
    • Alan Rickman was already known for being a good actor, but here he steals the show with his singing. It reflects the Judge's Soft-Spoken Sadist, making his solos and duets eerier.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • When the movie came out, it was noted that there were three Harry Potter alums in the film. The actor who played Anthony later played Grindelwald, so that's four. Not to mention that three of the four played Death Eaters, and all their HP characters were, at one point or another, bad guys. Dark Wizard reunion!
    • Famed but overly tedious barber Adolfo Pirelli was Sacha Baron Cohen’s first big role after Borat. In Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Borat himself briefly becomes a barber - who also takes incredibly long to get the job done.
  • Moe: Toby, before he becomes a Creepy Child.
  • Nausea Fuel: All of the throat-slitting scenes, which use the advantage of film to go from harmless stage-trickery to visceral close-ups as Todd digs his knife in as deep as possible.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Hey girls, it's Caius playing Anthony!
  • True Art Is Angsty: Much like Batman Returns, this film's horror, violence and nihilism are a shining example of what happens when you allow Tim Burton to go as dark as he wants.
  • WTH, Casting Agency?: The original is a notoriously difficult score, yet the cast here made up almost entirely of non singers. Helena Bonham-Carter’s performance in particular can make the ears bleed thanks to her extremely thin voice.


How well does it match the trope?

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