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Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Stars: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Laura Michelle Kelly

Director: Tim Burton

Despite another mesmerising turn by Depp, there's rather too much full-on throat-slashing in this sombre, stylish Stephen Sondheim musical about the supposed 18th century London barber who dispatched his victims (via a tip-up chair) to a cellar below, where his female accomplice chopped them up to make the kind of meat pies that revived her failing business.

A chalky Depp, deep-set eyes channelling Mr Hyde via Jack Sparrow, is the centrepiece of this bloodsoaked tale, though in truth an equally pale Bonham Carter runs him close as predatory pie lady Mrs Lovett.

This version of the grim yarn gives Todd a backstory as well. An apprentice barber, he finds himself transported to Australia at the whim of a local judge (Rickman) who fancies Todd's wife (Kelly) and takes her baby as his ward. Fifteen years later, Todd is back, his heart blackened by dreams of revenge, accompanied by a young sailor who's clearly destined to fall for the daughter. Now a nubile teenager, she's coveted by the judge, who plans to marry her.

After killing a rival close-shaver (Cohen), who threatens to blackmail him over his past, Todd, embittered to hear his wife has committed suicide, gets down to bloody business, assisted by Mrs Lovett and Cohen's angelic-voiced young assistant (Edward Sanders) who knows nothing of what goes on in the cellar, as Todd's victims come cascading down from above.

Depp is just brilliant as the Edward Razorhands of Old London, exuding shivery menace and singing just like a Broadway star: is there no limit to this man's talents? Jamie Campbell Bower has a beautiful singing voice as the young seaman - Jayne Wisener is a bit thin as Todd's daughter - but, as in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, you just can't wait for Depp to get back on screen.

The blood-letting, though, is in-your-face and shown far too many times - was it 10 throats cut or a dozen? Some variation of approach was called for, and it not only results in an 18 certificate, but takes the edge off this impressively staged and bravura piece, largely shot in shades of steel and charcoal - apart from the gore.

There's a startling vibrancy - even threat - about the songs that you've rarely heard before, and sensational opening credits that have you on the edge of the seat even before the action starts. The squeamish are advised to close their eyes, however, as soon as they see the flash of Todd's razor.

David Quinlan

USA/UK 2007. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour by deluxe.
116 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 21 Jan 2008