Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Stephen Sondheim’s landmark 1979 Broadway musical has now been given the Tim Burton treatment. The director’s favourite actor, Johnny Depp, ditches the cutesy mannerisms he brought to Edward Scissorhands and Pirates of The Caribbean to portray the demon barber as a lean, mean killing machine with a growling Leonard Cohen-esque singing drawl who has a single-minded determination to avenge the kidnapping of his wife and daughter by a heinous judge (Alan Rickman, the perfect pantomime villain).
Depp is a mesmerising lead, but Burton bases all his visual choices on the varying emotional states of Mrs Lovett (played by the director’s wife Helena Bonham Carter) whose fine performance in this macabre and bloody feast of a film runs the gamut of emotions as she bakes meat pies using from the remnants of the barber’s slaughter. When she imagines married life with Todd, the colours are as abstract and primary as those used by Burton in his 1985 Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. It is a daring shift of tone in a film whose palate is a predominantly black and white punctuated with the blood red residue of the unlucky souls who sit in Todd’s barber chair.
Burton is obsessed with production design, whether it is the dark metropolis of Gotham City or the suburbs of Scissorhands, he chooses production designers he believes will best bring his vision to life. In this case it’s the legendary Dante Ferretti (Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, Casino) who perfectly captures the cobbled gas-lit streets of Victorian London. Sondheim has hitherto been ill-served by film adaptations of his stage work, but Burton has done a formidable job of trimming and re-working the original play. A visual and aural treat.
General release from Fri 25 Jan.