A great deal bloodier than most musicals, Tim Burton’s beautifully crafted take on Stephen Sondheim’s stage show still feels like a kids’ film that no littl’uns will see, such is the sweep of his story, his caricaturing, and his balletic approach to killing.
But human behaviour isn’t Burton’s strong point, so one doesn’t expect him to gain a strong grip on the psyche of Benjamin Barker – now Mr S Todd (Johnny Depp, with a skunk’s streak in his locks) – the barber who’s back in dank Victorian London and looking for revenge on crooked Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman, resuscitating his turn in ‘Perfume…’) after enduring an unjust stint in a penal colony and losing his wife and daughter. This forlorn figure is now entering a pact with local pie-maker Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter, fresh from the Queen Vic) that sees trade blossom for both – and offers Todd a busman’s outlet for his anger…
There’s something of the Hulk to this Todd (a monster with a heart and a troubled past), but there’s a heavy dose of Fred West, too. Depp is too young and too beautiful – but he claws back some romance for his anti-hero and proves a capable singer. It’s the usual Burtonisms that impress: the sets, the costumes, a masterly embrace of the sound-stage (retaining the theatricality of Sondheim’s original).
There’s a gulf between the colourful leads and the bland supporting roles, and Burton struggles to avoid a flat middle section that contrasts with the atmospherics of his opening and the melodrama of his finale – but mostly this is grand-scale studio-work at its most beguiling.