Musical movie magic

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ed Sanders, Jamie Campbell Bower, Jayne Wisener, Laura Michelle Kelly, Michael N Harbour, Anthony Head; Dir: Tim Burton; Cert: 18; 1hr 56mAttend the tale of Sweeney Todd - a gloriously tortured tale of bloody revenge and cannibalism in Victorian London.

Andrew Clarke

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ed Sanders, Jamie Campbell Bower, Jayne Wisener, Laura Michelle Kelly, Michael N Harbour, Anthony Head

Dir: Tim Burton; Cert: 18; 1hr 56m

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd - a gloriously tortured tale of bloody revenge and cannibalism in Victorian London. This is a stunning big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's macabre musical. This cinematic translation of the Broadway show is a perfect match for Tim Burton and his regular cast of talented ghoulish actors.


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It may be a musical, it may be a movie based on a theatrical show but at as soon as the organ sounds and the skies clear over a grey and dismal London we are left in no doubt that this is a true Tim Burton film.

Burton has a wonderful talent for creating auteur-style films inside the Hollywood system - Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, two dark Batman movies, Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride all bear his unmistakable stamp. All revel in his limited colour palette which runs to black, white, dark blue and the odd splash of red.

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They also have a cast which have come to resemble a stock company which has evolved over the last 25 years. The leading member of the cast is Johnny Depp, Burton's alter-ego on screen, who has appeared in six Burton movies. Depp clocks up his double hat-trick with a mesmerising performance as the eponymous demon barber of Fleet Street.

He dominates every scene and sweeps his way through the film - being propelled by his quest for vengeance after being deported by the corrupt Judge Turpin.

While the Broadway and West End casts have tended to be powerful, full-throated singers, here Burton gets his cast to act the songs rather than just belt them out. What the songs lose in power, they gain in sinister realism. Some of the lyrics are also turned into some pithy lines of dialogue.

Depp is very effective as the demon barber. He acts his way through the songs, his singing voice resembles early David Bowie rather than the booming Broadway vocalists who have previously inhabited the role while Helena Bonham Carter relishes the role of Mrs Lovett, the owner of the second-rate pie shop beneath Sweeney's establishment.

Her voice seems weaker than Depp's at first - particularly on her discordant opening number Worst Pies in London but fears about her singing ability are swiftly allayed as she gets her teeth stuck into the part.

Both Depp and Bonham Carter make this a compelling acting experience and it is the force of their intense characterisation that carries the movie.

The film opens dramatically with Depp as Sweeney standing on the prow of a ship returning to London. He surveys the narrow streets and the distinctive skyline and as the ship slips under Tower Bridge, he feels bitter resentment welling up inside him.

He describes in song how as young barber Benjamin Barker he was robbed of his wife and child by the predatory Judge Turpin, played with a lovely sneer by Alan Rickman.

Sweeney is back in London to find out what happened to his wife and child and seek vengeance on Turpin - who it turns out is planning to marry his ward - Joanna, Sweeney's daughter.

The supporting cast is rounded out by Timothy Spall as the positively Dickensian Beadle Bamford, Sacha Baron Cohen as the fake Italian barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli and Laura Michelle Kelly, who was Mary Poppins on stage in London, as the mad beggar woman.

The story is as dark as it comes but Burton has enough mischief flowing through his veins to liven the proceedings with some nicely judged black humour. The title sequence is also attention-grabbing as blood drips slowly between the cogs of the meat grinding machine.

Shot in London, the film has a majestic quality to it. At times it looks virtually black and white, tinged with hints of colour. Sondheim's powerful score propels the action along, aided by Burton's mobile camera and swift cutting.

This is also Burton's first film since Ed Wood that doesn't benefit from music from Danny Elfman. Instead Burton makes good use of Sondheim's powerful and distinctive score which has been slightly trimmed and re-arranged for the film.

It's a triumphant movie, wonderful feast for both the eyes and ears. It has the potential to join Edward Scissorhands as one of the major milestones not only of Burton's career but also of Depp's.

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