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Bleak house

Movies | A Burtonesque Sweeney Todd

Issue: "Out from the shadows," Dec. 22, 2007

Stephen Sondheim's best musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, includes some of the most verbally and musically complex, yet tuneful and memorable, scores in the history of theater. A film adaptation was inevitable, and director Tim Burton has now made one (rated R for buckets of baroque gore). It is grim but not unfriendly, like most Burton films.

Sondheim purists may despair-Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are fine actors but too young and thin-voiced for Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett-but not steely-nerved adults who take in the bleak, funny film that chronicles the barber's quest for revenge after the Dickensian Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) transports Todd to Australia, then assaults Todd's wife and imprisons his daughter.

Sweeney in turn wreaks awful, eventually Sophoclean revenge on Turpin and a host of other characters.

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"I will have vengeance! I will have salvation!" Sweeney wails when his plans are initially thwarted: He is a wronged man angry at the sinful world, causing hair-raising harm while attempting to recover a vaguely recalled paradise that's lost forever.

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