The Johnny Depp Archive

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener, Ed Sanders

Directed by: Tim Burton

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin gets into the hot seat in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd

How wonderful! Tim Burton's made a film especially for me.

'As Burton himself has acknowledged, people who attend stage musicals don't tend to view grot, and those who cherish Cannibal Holocaust aren't always seen queuing round the block for Les Miserables,' opined this month's Total Film.

Er, hello. I'm standing over here, clutching my Wes Craven box set and The No 1 Musicals Album. Generally, being a connoisseur of horror musicals doesn't get you very far. In fact, it gets you Rockula and Jekyll and Hyde. Nuff said. This time, however, I may just have hit pay dirt. But would a fusion of my two favourite genres, directed by my favourite auteur and starring my favourite actor live up to my King Kong sized expectations?

Oh yes. Tim Burton's gorgeous, gory re-imagination of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical is everything you could wish for and more. Set in a dark and grimy London that's as stark and monochrome as the set of Sin City, it's like Jack the Ripper directed by Ed Wood, Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera meets, well, Andrew Lloyd Webber's.

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd

Not that you can really compare Stephen Sondheim's sophisticated score to Lord Hollyoak's toe-tapping tunes. Sure, you won't leave the cinema humming, but the soundtrack soars and swoops and jars and glitters like a serpent, twisting like the mind of our hero, reflecting his tortured state as vividly as the fractured mirror in his grimy studio.

The myth of Sweeney Todd arose at the end of the 18th century. A contemporary of Deacon Brodie and (give or take thirty years) Burke and Hare, he embodied the growing fears of respectable folks at the dirty, unfathomable warren England's capital had become, teeming with a vast, unknowable underclass of low-lifes and lost souls. But while the legendary Sweeney character allegedly slashed and hacked with all the cheerful remorseless violence of your true recidivist criminal, Burton's Todd does at least have the decency to boast a tragic backstory. Hell, even Michael Myers has a backstory these days.

Exiled to Australia fifteen years ago for a crime he didn't commit, Sweeney Todd, aka Benjamin Barker, aka the utterly magnificent Johnny Depp, is back, and he wants Vengeance. Teaming up with pragmatic piemaker Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter in her best ever role), the barking mad, bloodthirsty barber begins to ply his terrible trade, although the pile of corpses that accrue in the basement are merely practice for his ultimate victim, the evil Judge Turpin who sent him down in the first place (played by Alan Rickman and his splendid sneer).

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs Lovett

Yes, it is very bloody – the titles alone, like a gore-soaked version of the opening sequence to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, drip with more claret than Dracula's fangs – but the violence is stylised without being too slickly stylish. For in the end, this isn't just another serial killer film, or even a serial killer musical (move over, Saucy Jack…): this is an emotional roller-coaster that takes us way beyond the cheap, melodramatic shocks of a penny dreadful urban legend and into the dark heart of a tortured soul. Oblivious to the endearments of Mrs Lovett, whose offers of a better life he tunes out like white noise, Sweeney is set on vengeance only, at all costs, and his gradual mental disintegration is terrifying and terrible to watch.

And before you ask, yes, Johnny can sing, in splendid West End style with an East End twist, like Michael Ball channelling Michael Caine. With his wild wig of streaked black hair and gothic leather wardrobe, he looks like Edward Scissorhands' mad uncle and is absolutely fantastic. Fortunately Helena Bonham Carter can more than hold her own, her warmth and humour and down to earth practicality providing the perfect sympathetic foil to Sweeney's obsessive excesses.

With a superb cast at the top of their game, gorgeous styling and a heart-wrenching score, accompanied by a libretto that mingles mordant wit with lip-trembling pathos, Sweeney Todd is simply outstanding, a passionate and compelling tribute to the dreadful things we do for love.

This is Tim Burton's masterpiece. This is the one they'll remember him for.

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