Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 18

Despite the copious blood and guts, Tim Burton's musical is a strangely moral tale

Slit throats, body parts, cannibalism, gore – now that's my idea of a musical. As pessimistic as Jacobean tragedy and as liberal in its blood-letting as Hostel or any such charnel-house romp, Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is nevertheless rollicking good fun and, I dare say, an ideal post-Christmas panto for all the family – or it would be if not for the 18 certificate. That seems a bizarre decision by the BBFC since, fountainous though the claret is, you never feel that it's real. In any case, Stephen Sondheim's musical is a profoundly moral work, in which the innocent prevail, the wicked are punished and – well, all right, so a multitude of probably upstanding citizens end up as pie-filling.

Johnny Depp is the barber, unjustly exiled by the wicked judge who debauched his young wife. Returning to London years later – ashen-cheeked and with a white streak slashing across his hair like a lightning bolt of disillusion – Sweeney establishes himself as the quickest razor in town, in a shaving contest with Italian mountebank Pirelli (a show-stealing Sacha Baron Cohen, a popinjay in peacock blue). Sweeney's intent is to slit the throat of Judge Turpin, played by Alan Rickman as a grizzle-chopped voluptuary. But the barber's new ally and would-be inamorata, pie-baker Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), has better ideas for how both their businesses can thrive. They may be an evil pair, but they're pioneering in their way: such radical innovation in British cuisine would not be seen again till Heston Blumenthal.

Every frame tells you that Sweeney Todd is a Tim Burton film, although he significantly plays down his fondness for sugary-sour, nursery-tale Gothic: what makes this film so blackly amusing is that it's not played for laughs. The Dickensian London designed by Dante Ferretti has a skyline of hellishly billowing chimneys; the images, predominantly bled of colour by the director of photography Dariusz Wolski, resemble engravings in a penny dreadful. There's a splash of horror-film history too: the ship on which Sweeney returns looms out of the Thames fog, resembling the vessel that carried Dracula in Nosferatu.

Burton and co occasionally break up the colour scheme a bit, notably when Mrs Lovett dreams of a happy, respectable future, sunlit seaside walks and all. Seeing her in bright frills and Sweeney in scowling monochrome, out picnicking, you suspect that Burton is having a little joke about his and his leading lady's home life.

You may find Helena Bonham Carter a little leanly glamorous, if you expect Mrs Lovett to be as matronly as Angela Lansbury, who created the role. But while her fragile singing voice sometimes struggles beneath the torrents of Sondheim's wordplay, Bonham Carter is briskly funny, putting a larky, flirtatious spin on her rag-doll demeanour. She's extremely good in the poignant but sinister scene where the urchin Toby declares his devotion to her: a tear runs down Mrs Lovett's cheek at the recognition that he's doomed, but what's a businesswoman to do?

Depp's Oscar nomination has surprised some, who find his performance a little, pardon me, bloodless. It's not at all: just glowering and introverted, as befits the role of an embittered monomaniac. Can Depp sing? Not strictly: his delivery is a half-speaking Cockney snarl, in the line of David Bowie and Anthony Newley, but he makes it his own, thick with malice and, when necessary, soaring nicely on the end notes.

Along with the familiar faces – including Timothy Spall at his juiciest – there are some fine unknowns. Jamie Campbell Bower is candidly floppy as the naive sailor Anthony, and young Ed Sanders is a magnificent find as Toby: hearing him bellow "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir", you can't help thinking of Jack Wild's Artful Dodger, given the song's pastiche of Lionel Bart oompah.

The staging emphasises a chamber-drama feel, but if you're expecting the Brechtian artifice of the theatrical productions, be prepared for something closer to the lurid realism of Hammer horror. Sondheimites should generally approve, although the recurring "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is an ill-judged loss.

Otherwise, the film honours the songs, and Jonathan Tunick's lush orchestrations. We get the full beauty of Sondheim's ironies: death hovering about Turpin's chops as he swoons to the erotic ecstasy of "Pretty Women"; Lovett entranced by the shimmer of the music, and of Sweeney's blades. Smart, elegant and more adult than you expect from Burton, Sweeney Todd is a grisly – and gristly – delicacy.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower