penny dreadful(1)

During a seminar I was having in my university days we were looking at The String of Pearls by James Rymer and Thomas Peckett prest, which I must admit, I have never read or watched anything to do with Sweeney Todd before. I found the story fascinating and the more I heard of the demon barber of Fleet Street (As I hadn’t read the text just yet) from my lecturer, I had an inexplicable urge to raise my hand and make a point about something. Perhaps it was due to me not reading the text at the time which made it sound all the more familiar. But I raised my hand and made, what my lecturer thought of as a great intertextual link, to 2000’s comedy animation Chicken Run. Now I must admit, that I was anxious of being laughed at, as I hadn’t read the text so I didn’t know how close the connection really was. But after two months since reading the text (and watching the film again) there is definitely some connection there which I received praise for by my lecturer and who also insisted (at the time) to write a blog on my findings. So here I am.

I suppose that the link between the two texts does appear to be a long shot, but once you read them both there are some distinct similarities which are far too prominent to pass up an opportunity to talk about. A main point that is similar is the relationship between Mrs Lovett and Sweeney Todd and that of Mr. and Mrs Tweedy. The significant thing here is that Lovett and Todd’s relationship could be platonic or sexual, What is interesting about that is that the same could be said for the Tweedys. Although they share the same last name, indicating that they have a marital relationship, it doesn’t come a great surprise to me that they don’t have any children. The only marital contact you see in the movies entirety is when Mrs Tweedy pinches Mr. tweedy’s bottom, oddly enough that only happens when they begin fattening the chickens up to turn them into pies. So due to the lack of love in their relationship they appear to be more accomplices than husband and wife.

Another significant detail which links the movie to the novel so well is gender identity. In The String of Pearls, the main incident which flags up this issue of gender is where Johanna Oakley must cross dress and fashion herself like a man to investigate what happened to her lover Mark Ingestrie after she has reason to believe that Sweeney Todd has something to do with his disappearance. The interesting subject of gender identity is also explored in Chicken run, where, returning to the Tweedys, Mrs. Tweedy clearly “wears the pants” in the family, for example, she is calculating the profit margin, whilst the man sits by the window having suspicions that the chickens are ‘organised’.chickenrun2http://www.mediacircus.net/chickenrun.html

She also, says something significant when discussing the packaging with Mr. Tweedy:

MRS TWEEDY: Imagine it, in less than a fortnight, every grocers’ in the county, will be stocked with box upon box of Mrs Tweedy’s Home-made chicken pies

MR TWEEDY: Just Mrs?

MRS TWEEDY: Woman’s touch. Makes the public feel more comfortable.

This exchange shows the power in which this woman could be mistaken for all the dominance of a husband still markets her pies under “Mrs” alone, in order for the public to ‘feel’ more comfortable. In the Chicken coop there is also a struggle of gender identity on a smaller scale; Ginger is in charge of all operations meaning, every chicken reports to her. Ginger even despises being emasculated by the likes of Rocky who insists on calling her ‘doll face’ which is a reference to her beauty as a female. These are all fascinating uses of gender, but it is surprising to see such in-depth gender role reversals occuring in a children’s comedy animation.

I suppose the greatest link between these two texts is the making of the pies. It is revealed early on in The String of Pearls that Todd is murdering his clients in his barber shop on Fleet street and is transporting the bodies down the road to Mrs Lovett, his accomplice, who is using the corpses to make pies and distribute them to the public who, to our surprise, find them delicious. Chicken Run is doing effectively the same thing; we, as the audience, befriend and sympathise with these poor animals which in reality doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing, but is in actuality a fact of farmers. What the chickens don’t seem to understand is that farmers will eat the chickens regardless of whether it lays eggs or not. However, what these movies have done to all their characters is apply human intellect to an otherwise simple-minded animal. Therefore, these anthropomorphic chickens could in fact represent the public of London who are there to be used by the evil minded members of society in order to feed their own selfish needs and desires. This was the first connection I made between the two texts on that day where my lecturer was discussing The String of Pearls, it is the fact that these chickens are so human like in their scheming for their desire of freedom and who eventually earn it through their toils, much like Johanna’s lover Mark. He upsets the order of business and comes up through the tray platform, upon doing so leads to the death of Mrs Lovett due to the poison doing ‘its work’ which accelerated in its course due to the ‘pangs of conscience’ rising in her after Mark had exclaimed the foul truth of the pie’s key ingredient.

There are moments where I feel that this idea is slightly far-fetched as there are clear differences between the two texts that I will not be ignorant to keep silent about. However, if there is the existence of a prominent connection between two texts, no matter how different they may be, it is therefore significant to mention and state the connection. And from this post, I have proven that there is more than a slight connection between these two, which I therefore deem relevant to compare and contrast. After all, isn’t that what Literature entices us to do?

Chicken_run_ver1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_Run

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