Sweeney Todd – very odd

sweeneyStuck in lockdown and desperately looking for something different to watch on telly, I came across the 2012 movie The Sweeney, based on the old 1970s TV series. I’d never watched it before as I’d been put off by the low star-ratings in the Radio Times, but this time I thought I’d give it a go.

Bad move. Ten minutes in I was already regretting it, as a car full of unpleasant people made unpleasant jokes about more unpleasant people, en route to a ‘blagging’ at a warehouse somewhere in London. The twist? This wasn’t the baddies, this was the police. Or more specifically, the Flying Squad, nick-named (in London rhyming slang) Sweeney Todd.

Once at the warehouse they drove cars through the scenery and beat the living sh*t out of a number of bad guys, while still being unpleasant. And this was apparently supposed to be a massive success.

The action switched to the Flying Squad HQ, where more of the same characters hung around being unpleasant to each other, and then to a dodgy international bank, where they made a huge change by being unpleasant to the bank’s manager instead. And there was a scene involving suspending some baddie by the ankles from the top of a tall building, which was done to death in The Sweeney’s fellow seventies cop show The Professionals and about as original as mud.

At that point, I switched off. I’d lost all interest in the characters, the plot, the script, or pretty much anything else. I have no idea what happened in the end (except that it was probably unpleasant) and I had no great wish to find out. The reason? It was just. so. dull. Dull, cliched, and wholly wrong. If they’d chosen to stick with the TV series’ 1970s setting it might, just about, have worked. They didn’t. They updated it to the second decade of the 21st century. But they forgot to update the characters’ attitudes at the same time, so what came out of their mouths wasn’t just (yeah, okay) unpleasant, it was also horribly out of date.

I’m not saying an occasional police officer doesn’t speak like that, or even behave like that, from time to time. The point is, it would no longer be seen as acceptable. And that seemed to be the problem, because at no point in the 40-or-so unpleasant minutes I watched was that made clear. The end result was that characters we were supposed to sympathise with (the “good guys”, if you like) came across as thugs. And no different from the baddies they were supposed to be targeting. And utterly unlikeable.

I didn’t watch all that many of the original TV shows, but I don’t remember it being quite as unsympathetic as that. Yes, Jack Regan and George Carter were tough men, capable of doling out the violence if it got the baddies off the streets. But they also had hearts, and a conscience, and they were so well brought to life by John Thaw and Dennis Waterman that you felt like they were real. Ray Winstone and Ben Drew weren’t nearly as charismatic; Winstone in particular grated with his growly dialogue and endless swearing (something else that wasn’t in the original version, and which felt less uber-modern and cool, and more just, well, unpleasant).

Do I now see why it only ever gets 2 stars? Yup. Will I be giving this another go at some point? Absolutely not. Shame, as with the right cast, script and direction it could have been a worthy tribute to a classic TV show…

4 thoughts on “Sweeney Todd – very odd

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    What a disappointment! And, as you say, it could have been such a good piece. Well, that’s one film I won’t have to go looking for…

  2. Thanks for the review! It’s something I might have tried… I can just about cope with those kind of attitudes as being ‘of their time’ in 70s shows. In 2020 ones? I don’t think so! If it was to lend historical accuracy, perhaps, but if the entire thing is supposed to be twentyfirst century, then no!

    • Yes, I’d have been happier if they’d set the remake during the 70s – at least then the attitudes would have been realistic. Now, they just feel horribly out of place.

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