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Sweeney Todd: Fiction or Fact?

UPPER-INTERMEDIATE Vydáno dne 04.05.2008

Co je pravdivého na příběhu Sweeneyho Todda? Byl to krutý vrah z masa a kostí nebo jen další z fantomů z Východního Londýna devatenáctého století?

Sweeney Todd: Fact or Fiction?

"You sir! How 'bout a shave?
Come and visit your good friend Sweeney!
You sir, too sir! Welcome to the grave..."

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street - a new Tim Burton film, staring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, has been shown in Czech cinemas since February 7, 2008. It's sublime enough to make you hold your breathin fright, but at the same time your soul might shiver, impressed by the fate of a man scourged with unjust charge.

...and the question is: Was Sweeney Todd a sinister murderer flesh and blood, or was he just another phantom of the 19th century East London?

Two most famous Londoners: Jack the Ripper (late 19th century) and Sweeney Todd (mid-19th century), both having their "enterprise" in East London, the Cockney area. We seem to have heard much about the infamous Jack the Ripper, while Sweeney Todd is a newcomer for most of the Czech audience.

The macabre anti-hero of 186 Fleet Street came into being on November 21, 1846 in The People's Periodical. There was this "penny dreadful" thing, a type of horror tale of the era published in serial form, featuring the Sweeney Todd tales from November 1846 to March 1847, issues 7 -24.

The secondary character of Sweeney Todd appeared in The String of Pearls: A Romance (written by Thomas Prest), introducing the idea of disposing of the evidence of his business in the form of meat pies. It was followed by a play The String of Pearls: The Fiend of Fleet Street (written by George D. Pitt) set into the late 18th century (the reign of George II), which debuted in March 1847. Since then, speculation has unleashed whether the Demon Barber was a man or myth.

There are no outright answers. There are no public records stating there was a barber shop located on Fleet Street, nor a barber named Todd in the late 18th century.

Nevertheless, there were bits of real-life horror creeping around at that time, commonly published in the newspaper. The public was hungry for bloody deed stories. The news commonly travelled from mouth to mouth (much of the population was still illiterate) and facts were apparently embellished along the way. In spite of it, they were given out as "true facts".

Much to common confusion, many penny dreadfuls were fictionalized accounts of real crimes, and Thomas Prest, the writer who first set down Sweeey Todd's name in press, was known to hunt regularly through newspapers for his story ideas.

Obviously, it might be harder to prove someone's non-existence rather than his real being...

Nonetheless, the theme became quite popular and served for several dramatizations, and finally made it to Broadway (Stephen Sodheim's adaptation). And one eventful night a few years ago, the performance was visited by director Tim Burton who said to have been so much impressed by the show that he had to go and see the piece three nights in a row! (... that's exactly what Burton´s Sweeney did with me; unfortunately, no neighbouring cinemas showed it the third night...). It was Burton's first musical, the same applies to Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, who sang their parts themselves (likewise Alan Rickman or Sacha Baron Cohen and others) and I think it isn't exaggerated to say it's a real masterpiece.

The 2007 Story in a nutshell

"There was a barber and his wife, and she was beautiful..." and there was an influential Judge Turpin who found her beautiful too. He swept the barber from his plate with a false charge - for life. His wife, Lucy, lost her reason after she had been raped by the judge. She ended up in a madhouse and the judge adopts her little daughter Johanna.
The barber manages to escape from prison 15 years later and returns to London. He finds his old shop on Fleet Street where now Mrs. Lovett has her pie shop. She recognizes him and reveals him the fate of his family: his daughter is kept by Judge Turpin and his wife Lucy poisoned herself by arsenic...
The barber, agonized by his destroyed life and driven by revenge, slits throats of his customers and Mrs. Lovett turns them into meat pies. Sweeney impatiently awaits the Judge to come...
There's a parallel story occurring simultaneously; Sweeney's daughter Johanna, imprisoned by Judge Turpin in his house, is beheld by Sweeney's young sailor friend, who immediately falls in love with her and craves to elope with her...

To find out more about the plot - go to the cinema! ;)

Sweeney Todd on Internet

There are plenty of articles, still pictures, mp3's, youtube videos, etc. to be found on> - Official Movie Site - International Movie Database (with 89 pics) - Sweeney Todd overall info - history, books, musical, movie...

Sweeney Todd - The Original Novel available within 3 - 5 days at:

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