Tim Burton finds the dark side of Alice's Wonderland

There are many film adaptations of Lewis Carroll s classic but Tim Burton has put a new spin on it by featuring an adult Alice. He and wife Helena Bonham Carter, who stars in the film, talk to Marianne Gray There must be more than 20 film versions of Le

There are many film adaptations of Lewis Carroll's classic but Tim Burton has put a new spin on it by

featuring an adult Alice. He and wife Helena Bonham Carter, who stars in the film, talk to Marianne Gray

There must be more than 20 film versions of Lewis Carroll's 1865 book Alice's Adventures In Wonderland but none as fantastic and darkly beguiling as director Tim Burton's 3D version, Alice In Wonderland.

Set when Alice is 19 years old and about to enter into a marriage she isn't sure about, she follows a white rabbit down a rabbit hole and returns to the place she visited as a child - but it's now called Underland not Wonderland.

"She misheard the word Underland when she was first down there and thought they said Wonderland," Burton says in explanation. It's an easy, if cryptic, mistake to make.

"There are so many cryptic bits that Carroll dropped into his books and, to get the original mood and flavour, we gathered all the artwork from all of the various artists who'd drawn the Alice books for our film."

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Burton knew when he was given the script and heard the words "3D and Alice" that he had to make the film.

"The book has an iconic identity. Whether you've read it or not, you know about Alice and the Mad Hatter and the Jabberwocky and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. It wasn't that I loved it as a child - I read a condensed version of it when I was five years old and then the Disney cartoons took over. But it was a chance to do a proper mix of the medium and the material and the 'trippyness' of that extraordinary world of Carroll's.

"The book is so much part of the cultural landscape that it seemed like open territory. But it's always been about a passive little girl wandering around a series of adventures with weird characters. I wanted to make an engaging movie where you get some of the psychology and bring a freshness to Alice while keeping the classic nature. I hope I've made Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events."

Burton's Alice is an independent soul, trapped in the narrow boundaries of aristocratic Victorian England. She is played by Mia Wasikowska (Sophie in In Treatment), an Australian-born, American actress who was brought up on Alice films made by the Czech surreal artist and film-maker Jan Svankmajer.

Burton's collaborator on seven films, Johnny Depp, is the Mad Hatter. The director's real-life partner, Helena Bonham Carter, plays the evil Red Queen and Anne Hathaway is her younger sister, the White Queen.

"The Red Queen is the tyrannical monarch of Underland, an amalgam of the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and the Red Queen from Through The Looking-Glass,' says Bonham Carter, who was born and raised in Golders Green. "She rules her subjects through fear and chops off people's heads as her solution to everything. She's definitely got emotional problems. It takes no-thing for her to lose her temper. She is a tyrant who deserves no sympathy or empathy.

"I can't recall the first time I read Alice In Wonderland but I know the story felt good to me. Tim gave me a few pointers on approaching the role the Red Queen, like watching Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest and Bette Davis in The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex. But I actually based her on a toddler. Toddlers are all about me, me, me. Mummy carry me, Mummy I want television, Mummy I want... All demands. The queen's tantrums and demands are those of a


"I had to do a lot of shouting, "chop-off-his-head" type shouting, and would lose my voice by mid-morning so couldn't speak for the second half the day,' laughs the actress.

"This is how Tim shuts me up,' she jokes. "And he made my head huge and bulbous on screen, increasing it digitally to around twice its normal size as it is in real life."

Burton, 51, an American director with many Oscars attached to his films, and Golders Green-born, Oscar-nominated Bonham Carter, 43, met in 2001 making Planet Of The Apes. She has appeared in several of his films, including Big Fish, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street and lent her voice to his animated feature, Corpse Bride.

Together, they are one of cinema's most striking couples, splitting their lives between London and Los Angeles and have endeared themselves to many couples by choosing to live in neighbouring houses in Belsize Park with a connecting doorway because they felt they could not live in the same residence.

They have two children, a toddler of two, Nell, who undoubtably was the source of much role researching, and Billy, six, who was old enough to attend the premiere. Both children have cameos in the film.

"They both saw the film being made," says Bonham Carter, "and I don't think the weird animals scare them. Recently, on morning television, Nell saw her father being interviewed and then some shots of some of Underland's scariest CGI monsters. I thought she'd be frightened, but she just wanted to see more of the monsters on TV. 'I want more monsters,' she wailed."

Also starring in Alice are many familiar voices like Alan Rickman as Absolem the Caterpillar, Michael Sheen as McTwisp the White Rabbit, Stephen Fry as Chessur the Cheshire Cat, Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky, Timothy Spall as Bayard the Bloodhound, Michael Gough as the Dodo, Barbara Windsor as Mallymkun, the Dormouse, and Paul Whitehouse as the March Hare. Matt Lucas plays both the Tweedles and Crispin Glover is the Knave of Hearts, who is the head of the Red Queen's Army.

Johnny Depp (who's godfather to Billy Burton) said of his Mad Hatter role: "The combination of being able to play the Mad Hatter and take what Lewis Carroll has done and what Tim's vision is, and then throw my own stuff in there, was a dream come true. Tim's great. He never says to anybody, 'Do this' or 'do that'. He just waits to see what the actor will do with the role.