Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (18)

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

From the moment the opening credits start literally oozing on to our screens with gruesome effect, we know that we're in for a typically macabre cinematic experience from the director Tim Burton.

Once a happily married barber, Benjamin Barker (as he is first known), is transported to Australia by a covetous judge (Alan Rickman), who lusts after his wife. Finally returning to London 15 years later, Barker has morphed into the murderous and manic Sweeney Todd, a pallid- faced killer with revenge firmly on his mind. Reunited with his beloved barber's blades ("My friends), he sets out to give the judge "the closest shave I ever gave", along with anyone else who gets in the way, not to mention those who don't. Sweeney is coldly indiscriminate as to whom his victims are, believing that "they all deserve to die." Those who fall foul of his "barbering skills" are to him, no more than pie fodder for landlady and partner in crime, Mrs Lovett. And so, the scene is set as the sound of the gurgled last breaths of customers with freshly slit throats, fills the air in Todd's barber shop.

Set to the songs of Stephen Sondheim, Burton's adaptation of the much-loved musical is as much a visual affair as it is musical. The general feel of Burton's Sweeney Todd is characteristically dark, both in mood and appearance. Much like the blood that spurts from Todd's victims, the colour seems literally to have been drained from Burton's vision of London, leaving us with a murky, pessimistic view of Todd's world.

The only real flashes of colour come from the gushing torrents of blood sprayed across our screens, perhaps the only truth in Todd's demented reality. The singing itself is not as polished as something you'd expect to see on stage. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter's vocals are relaxed and almost "rock'*'roll". But it's this very fact that actually enhances the experience as a musical movie, rather than a stage musical transferred to the big screen.

The gritty honesty of Depp's voice acts as an extension of his character and, as such, is less of an abrupt distraction from the action, than the flashiness of technical ability might be. What Burton achieves here is a seamless marriage of song and story, one complementing the other rather than competing for attention.

As you'd expect, both Depp and Bonham Carter are nothing short of genius, playing up to Burton's quirky, theatrical landscape as only they know how. And with Rickman's suitably creepy Judge Turpin, Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is truly a triumph.

By Yasmin Huda, freelance writer

E-mail your 500-word review of an arts event of your choice to readerreview@independent.co.uk. For terms and conditions, see www. independent.co.uk/freelanceterms