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Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

SWEENEY Todd, the so-called Demon Barber of Fleet Street and one of history’s most infamous serial killers, is brought chillingly to life by British actor Ray Winstone in this compelling and, at times, gruesome BBC drama entitled simply Sweeney Todd.

Todd was undoubtedly a man psychologically damaged by a series of personal circumstances – a traumatic childhood, a stint in Newgate prison and, lastly, but perhaps most significantly, his own impotence.

With this in mind, Winstone’s Todd brings a touch of humanity to a man who would otherwise be nothing short of a monster – for what else do you call someone who slit open throats as easily as you or I would slit open a bag of sweets; or disposed of his victims’ earthly remains in such a cold and calculating fashion?

A respected barber, Todd’s killing spree began in 1765 when he was cruelly reminded of what life behind bars really meant in 18th-century London.

Add to that one unfortunate jailer who just happened to present his neck for shaving; plus the inability to consummate his burgeoning relationship with a certain Mrs Lovett (Essie Davis) – a woman, incidentally, whose skills were not confined to the bedroom alone, (she did, after all, make exceedingly good pies) – and Todd’s inner demons were unleashed.

But that’s not all, with meat hard to come by, what exactly went into those much sought-after pies? You’ve guessed, of course – the flesh of her gruesomely dispatched lovers.

Winstone, as you might expect, is superb in the Jekyll and Hyde role of mild-mannered and, dare I say, almost likeable man whose alter-ego is terrifying to behold.

Yet such is the power and sensitivity of Winstone’s performance that it’s possible even to feel a modicum of pity for Todd’s tortured soul (for it seems he did indeed, have one).

All of which leads to a somewhat disturbing point (well two, actually) – is it right to feel sympathy for someone who can perpetrate such horrendous deeds whatever their psyche; and, perhaps more importantly, do we really know that nice man across the street? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Sweeney Todd makes for riveting viewing although some viewers might find it too graphic in its depiction of Todd’s handiwork. But as Winstone himself explained to a leading Sunday newspaper magazine:

“I’m never worried about drama being too graphic. With a subject like this, it’s got to be graphic. It’s not Tom and Jerry. You have to show that violence hurts and leaves people seriously damaged.”

You have been warned…..