The principal roles are excellently well cast with big screen turns by Johnny Depp (as Sweeney), Helena Bonham Carter (Mrs Lovett), Alan Rickman (Judge Turpin), Timothy Spall (Beadle Bamford) and Sacha Baron Cohen (a very funny and well-oiled Pirelli). It was also nice to see two West End troupers – Olivier Award winner Laura Michelle Kelly, just nominated for a Theatregoers’ Choice Award for The Lord of the Rings, and Jayne Wisener, just seen in Parade at the Donmar – as the Beggar Woman and Johanna. And watch out too for cameos from Anthony Head and Peter Bowles.
The real question, of course, is: can Johnny Depp sing? And we’re happy to report that the answer, in our opinion, is yes. Although Depp played guitar in a Florida band called The Kids in the 1980s, he says he'd never sung a complete song before making a demo tape of “My Friends”, an ode to razors in Sweeney Todd. Director Tim Burton had apparently always only had Depp – with whom he’d done five previous films – in mind for the role, but the actor’s singing voice was a key determinant, particularly in winning over composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who had casting approval.
Co-star Bonham Carter describes Depp’s singing as “very naked and very sexy and very touching and brave and beautiful, very beautiful, and soulful”. Of the leading man’s villain-as-victim turn overall, Sondheim is pleased: “Johnny Depp’s performance is quite remarkable. Sweeney’s desire for revenge and the simmering anger and hurt that he feels carry the story forward, and Johnny finds the most remarkable variety within that narrow set of emotions. The intensity is at a boil all the time and he never drops it. It’s real anger.”
A warning to Sweeney purists: substantial changes have been made to the story, the score (some songs removed completely, others truncated) and the lyrics too. But it works. Sweeney Todd hits UK cinema screens on 25 January 2008.