So I was listening to Radio Allegro's very rowdy very funny and very long movie special and not too far into that queer beast, there was what sounded like an unplanned but communal dissing of Helena Bonham-Carter's star turn in Sweeney Todd. Typical of my gemini nature I found myself wanting to both join in and defend her. For you see, I also have issues with the performance but I have deep love for "Miss Lucy Honeychurch" in all phases of her career.
Mrs. Lovett, one of the musical theater's unquestionably great roles, is more flexible than Sweeney Todd's new naysayers will have you believe. I've only seen three incarnations but in just those three she's been played with the emphasis on outre comic lunacy (Angela Lansbury), a vampy desperation (Patti Lupone) and now she's like a practical reserved vampire (Helena). Whether the new approach works is a matter up to individual interpretation, of course. But rather than debate the merits of the performance here I want to focus on the woman in all her glory.
To quote her suitor in A Room With a View, the film which brought her international fame at the sparkling age of 19 "Beauuuuutttyyyyy"
She's been one of the screen's most striking women ever since. Consider that round impossibly delicate face, the huge haunting brown orbs we'll call eyes and, as Tim Burton and his cameramen are proud to point out, an ample and inviting bosom.
Helena was also the star attraction in not one but two of the greatest sex scenes of the past decade of film (Wings of the Dove and Fight Club) and yet filmmakers, even her real life love Tim Burton, don't often seem to capitalize on her eroticism. At least not in pleasurable ways. It's both fascinating and disturbing to me that so many of her films have taken care to either dismantle or desecrate the beauty. She meets a gruesome uglifying ending in more than one of her features: Frankenstein and Sweeney Todd are birds of a feather in this sick way and both were directed by men she was sleeping with. Hmmm....
Grafting death and decay onto her doll like prettiness have made her into something of a goth icon (Fight Club and the relationship with Tim Burton didn't hurt) but that came as a surprise to this early adopter. Who among us that fell in love with her royal prettiness in Lady Jane or her ornery loveliness in A Room With a View, knew that the darkness would eventually engulf her?
This is now the Helena movie equation...
...is it not?
related: Last season on Hump Day Hottie and my Sweeney Todd Review