Tim Burton, master of the gothic fairytale, brings us this fiendish love story of a demonic barber’s bloodlust. As an adaptation of the popular Broadway musical, Sweeney Todd is a fine example of the genre, meshing music with mayhem to create Burton’s most accomplished work in an illustrious career.
Sweeney Todd is a man wrongfully imprisoned and exiled to Australia. Many years later he returns to London a changed man, with revenge on his mind. He sets himself up as a prized barber, cutting the throats of his customers and sending their corpses downstairs to be used as filling in Mrs Lovett’s pies. His ultimate aim is to kill the pernicious judge who unfairly took his family away from him.
Sweeney’s mid-Nineteenth Century London is a dark and dingy labyrinth full of belching chimneys and narrow alleyways. Burton shoots the film with a monochromatic colour scheme, interspersed with gushes of bright red blood.
It would almost be a triumph of style over substance if it wasn’t for the tight script, adapted from the stage play by John Logan (Gladiator). The simplicity of the storyline is what gives the film punch. The relatively small scale and the limited number of sets keep the film focused and lean.
As the titular barber, Depp proves he has an adequate singing voice and gives his character a deep sense of melancholy. But it’s Helena Bonham Carter who steals the show as the bubbly Mrs. Lovett. Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Sacha Baron Cohen provide strong support.
Deftly treading the fine line between comedy and tragedy, Sweeney Todd is a thrilling tale of murder, love and revenge. The singing takes a while to get used to – brimful with lyrics; low on memorable melody – but within twenty minutes you’ll be siding with Sweeney. It’s the best musical in years.