Ray Winstone stars as the notorious 'Demon Barber of Fleet Street' in this dark and enthralling tale of love, obsession, murder and ultimately redemption.
Life on the harsh streets of London in 1765 is not for the faint-hearted and only the fittest survive. Living in the shadow of Newgate Prison, Sweeney Todd tries to carve out a quiet and simple life as a barber.
Then, by chance, a sadistic gaoler who made Sweeney's childhood a living hell comes in to his shop for a shave. Sweeney is repelled by the presence of his former abuser, and realises he has a chance to take revenge.
Ray has forged a hugely successful career with roles such as Scum
, Nil By Mouth
, Sexy Beast
and Henry VIII
Read more about Ray »
Actor Ray Winstone describes his character as, "profoundly tortured. He spent 20 years in gaol for a crime he didn't commit. His brother was hung, and he was raped, and so Sweeney comes out completely tormented.
Sweeney's brother was hanged aged 12 because of their dad. There is a scene where the dad comes back. Sweeney is desperate to give him a chance to redeam himself, but the self-pitying father doesn't take it. His dad is his blood and all Sweeney wants is for him to apologise. In that moment, everything might have been all right, but it isn't."
Ray explains how Sweeney's life is complicated even further by his confused yet intense relationship with his neighbour, Mrs Lovett, "From the moment Sweeney sees Mrs Lovett he thinks of her as an angel. He falls in love with her, but she becomes like a prostitute and starts taking other lovers. He watches her with other men through a hole in the wall. That fuels his anger, and he starts to kill these men. He thinks what he's doing is alright because he's getting back at the people who run the world and they deserve it. It's fair to say that he's a pretty mixed up guy."
However Ray maintains, "we are not glorifying murder in Sweeney Todd. These sort of things happen. We show it, and it isn't nice. But when people hit each other with chairs, they don't just get up again as though nothing has happened. The minute you start to compromise, you've lost it. What did Shakespeare write about? Exactly those subjects which are covered in this drama. The greatest dramas in the world are all about sex, violence and death."
Essie is an Australian who now lives in New York. She won an Olivier award for her role as Stella in A Street Car Named Desire in 2003 and went on to get a Tony nomination for her role in the Tom Stoppard play, Jumpers. Recent film credits include A Girl With a Pearl Earring, Isolation and the upcoming Charlotte's Web.
Writer Joshua St Johnston was inspired to write the drama after seeing a production of the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd. He realised that Ray Winstone would be perfect for the lead role and set to work finding out more about the story. He explained,
"The character was originally created in 1846 in a story in The People's Periodical. Throughout the 19th century new dramatic versions were regularly churned out to great success, but they are high melodrama. I wanted to try and write something that felt more like it could be a true story. It's an attempt to apply a 21st century understanding of criminal psychology to an 18th century serial killer."
He researched the history of the period very carefully, "The streets would have been filled with excrement, gin addicts, beggars, animal torture passing for entertainment, dead babies ... it's not a version of Georgian England that we're often exposed to. From reading the histories I learnt that in the 1760s the Bow Street Runners were in their infancy. It's a fascinating time, because the notion of a police force was unpopular for reasons of civil liberty."
Tom has starred in popular dramas such as Band of Brothers
and Star Trek
. In 2006 he also appears in The Virgin Queen
on the BBC.
Read more about Tom »
He continues, "It was a brutal and brutalising world, and that we don't know of any real serial killers from that time might be more to do with the fact that murder was so easy to get away with, rather than that there weren't any. Maybe there really was a Sweeney Todd after all - he just never got caught."
Producer Gub Neal explains more, "This is no burlesque musical horror story. Sweeney is portrayed as a real man, someone whose own history was full of suffering and whose life becomes a kind of paradigm for the darkness of his age. Sweeney is portrayed as a man capable of great compassion and love, but whose only ability to exert power over the world was to murder.
It was a brutal and brutalising world, and that we don't know of any real serial killers from that time might be more to do with the fact that murder was so easy to get away with, rather than that there weren't any. Maybe there really was a Sweeney Todd after all - he just never got caught."