Sweeney Todd

running time 90 mins(BBC1 film)
BOX TV and Size 9 co-production for BBC ONE

Writer: Joshua St Johnston
Producers: Gub Neal, Caroline Hewitt, Emma Kingsman-Lloyd
Executive Producers: Justin Thomson-Glover and Patrick Irwin (BOX TV), Ray Winstone and Michael Wiggs (Size 9 Productions)

UK Transmission: BBC1 Tuesday 3 January 2006

BBC Sweeney Todd website - watch a preview

Behind the scenes photo and interview from Radio Times

Size Nine Productions website

Ray disgruntled that production is shot in Romania not London

Ray as Sweeney Todd

Ray as Sweeney Todd

Ray as Sweeney Todd

Tom Howard in Time Out London 21 Dec 05 - 4 Jan 05

A new dramatisation of one of London's most enduring legends - the 'myth' of the barber who slit the throats of his customers - written by Joshua St Johnston and starring Ray Winstone as Todd. Johnston's take is that Todd's actions are attributable to childhood trauma (his mother died young, his father abandoned him to the horrors of Newgate prison), much like modern-day serial killers. Winstone is excellent, giving a restrained performance but conveying Todd's inner turmoil perfectly, while Essie Davies is equally good as the pie-making love of his life Ms Lovett. However, if the mere sight of someone being shaved makes you sequamish (like this reviewr) then approach with extreme caution.

Ian Bell's review in The Herald 4 January 2006:

Ray Winstone gave the latter craft more than its due in Sweeney Todd. This was a genuine oddity of a play and brave by any standards. How do you depict a psychopath with a heart of gold, a man whose twisted understanding of right and wrong merely exposed eighteenth-century London as a vast sewer, but who also supplied the city with some excellent pies?

Winstone did two things. First he took the old rule that says screen-acting must be underplayed to its absolute limits. His demon barber was so reticent he was almost inarticulate. Winstone's Todd was a man of grunts and half-finished sentences, a gentle soul who could hardly bear the world's injustices.

That, however, was the second achievement of the actor and Joshua St Johnston's script: monsters are human, too, in whatever form they happen to take. What turned this Todd into a serial killer? Twenty years in the hell-hole of Newgate gaol after being unjustly imprisoned while a mere child? The cruel death of his mother? The callousness of his father?

This was a huge performance by Winstone. What was the reason for his actions, demanded magistrate Fielding. "Because I could. And then, I couldn't not." Bleak and true.

Kathryn Flett's review in The Observer 8 January 2006:

On a metaphorically lighter note, the Beeb's concerted bid to out-vile any offerings from other channels meant one had to watch Sweeney Todd from behind scrunched-up eyes, which in turn meant it was easy to miss the fine central performances from Ray Winstone and Essie Davis as the demon barber and his charming lady-love.

Eventually, however, I found myself sucked-in: beyond all the gore and the gurglings, writer Joshua St Johnston and director David Moore had somehow struck a throbbing vein of icky sweetness - a sticky sweetmeatiness, if you will - deep inside Todd's heart of darkness.

And while I'm not sure many actors would have been able to locate it, Winstone succeeded. Indeed, in the pantheon of barber-surgeons-cum-serial-throat-slashing cannibals, our Ray was as empathetically lovable as they come, and even while plagued with the pox, Essie Davis's beauty was luminously Pfeifferesque. A triumphant sort of Todd, then, while also being, visually and aurally, quite unspeakably horrible and perverse on every conceivable level, though thankfully free of musical numbers. Anyway, it was pretty timely because 'unspeakably horrible' already appears to be a TV trend of 2006.

Alison Graham's review in The Radio Times:

Two throat-slashings, a dismembering, the removal of a bullet without anaesthetic, an illegal abortion and an amputation. No, it's not some weird change of direction for Richard 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' Curtis, merely the contents of the first half-hour of this extraordinarily gruesome drama.

The always watchable Ray Winstone is Sweeney Todd, a tormented and unhappy barber who channels his sadness into slashing the throats of his customers before chopping them up and sending the bits to the bakery next door to be made into pies. He's helped by the owner of said pie shop, the comely Mrs Lovett (Essie Davis) who, along with her remarkably cantilevered bosom, holds Sweeney Todd in her thrall.

It's all very atmostpheric, and you can almost smell stinky 18th-century London. And there are moments of black humour. But blimey, you'll need a strong stomach.

BBC Press Office release on the production 9 Sept 05:


Ray Winstone is to star as Sweeney Todd, the most notorious barber who ever practised his trade, in an original screenplay by Joshua St Johnston.

Set in 18th century London, it is a dark and enthralling tale of love, obsession, murder, and ultimately redemption.

Commissioned by Peter Fincham, Controller BBC ONE, and Jane Tranter, Controller Drama Commissioning, it will be shown later this year.

Actress Essie Davis (A Streetcar Named Desire, Girl With A Pearl Earring) will co-star as Mrs Lovett, a young lady who isn't too choosy about her men or the source of meat for her pie shop.

Indeed, once Mrs Lovett is installed in a shop next to Sweeney's thriving Fleet Street business, the pair forge a complex and destructive partnership, and customers begin to disappear with alarming regularity.

The film boasts a cast that includes: Tom Hardy (Band of Brothers, Black Hawk Down, Star Trek: The Nemesis) as Matthew Payne, an upstanding Bow Street Runner, who owes his life to Sweeney; David Warner (The League Of Gentlemen's Apocalypse, Hornblower: Retribution) plays Sir John Fielding, author, politician and founder of the Bow Street Runners; and David Bradley (Blackpool, Filch in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban) plays Sweeney Todd's malicious father.

Eleven-year-old newcomer, Ben Walker, portrays Tobias, Sweeney's loyal yet unsuspecting apprentice.

Sweeney Todd is set in the harsh streets of London in 1765 where life is not for the faint-hearted and only the fittest will survive.

Living in the shadow of Newgate Prison, Sweeney Todd tries to carve out a quiet and simple life, until his past comes back to haunt him and he is unable to quell his inner demons.

When body parts are found in the Fleet River, Sir John Fielding orders his Bow Street Runners to investigate; but even with the threat of capture surrounding him, Sweeney Todd is unable to run away from the monster inside.

Indeed, his murderous spree only intensifies, threatening the lives of all those around him.

Producer Gub Neal says: "Ray Winstone playing the 'Demon Barber of Fleet Street' is a performance not to be missed!

"Joshua's script breaks new ground and elevates a myth that has been etched in the popular imagination into a tragic love story – a striking allegory about love, sex and death set in the 18th century."

Jane Tranter, Controller Drama Commissioning, says: "In this boldly original reworking of a classic story, Sweeney Todd is a man struggling to escape his own destiny.

"This is a gripping, authored and ambitious story which adds another, exciting and dangerous, flavour to the mix of drama on BBC ONE this year."

Sweeney Todd is a BOX TV and Size 9 co-production for BBC ONE and will shoot at Romania's leading studio production centre, MediaPro Pictures, situated outside of Bucharest. Sweeney Todd starts filming on August 29 2005.

The film is written by Joshua St Johnston and marks his television-writing debut.

The director is David Moore (Tom Brown's Schooldays, Wallis & Edward), with Gub Neal (Gunpowder Treason and Plot, Sunday) producing and Caroline Hewitt (Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Bright Young Things) co-producing.

The Size 9 producer is Emma Kingsman-Lloyd (Ultimate Force, Holby City).

The executive producers are: Justin Thomson-Glover and Patrick Irwin (BOX TV) and Ray Winstone and Michael Wiggs (Size 9 Productions).

Lucy Richer (Joint Head of Independent Drama) is executive producing for the BBC.

Sweeney Todd Ray Winstone
Mrs Lovett Essie Davis
Matthew Payne Tom Hardy
Sir John Fielding David Warner
Sweeney Todd's father David Bradley
Tobias Ben Walker

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