You wait all day for a biopic to come out about one of the greatest directors in movie history and two trundle along at once.
In the blue corner, we have HBO’s controversial The Girl. Starring Toby Jones and Sienna Miller as Alfred Hitchcock and Vivian Leigh respectively and set mainly during the filming and aftermath of The Birds, it quickened many a pulse with its accusations of a predatory Hitchcock who walked all over his wife and thought nothing of a bit of forced sex with his leading lady. Now, ladies and gentlemen, in the red corner, we have a new competitor in the form of Hitchcock. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, as Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville, we follow the chubby maestro as he sets about trying to unleash his pinnacle film onto an unsuspecting public.
The tone of the movie is set in the opening scene as Ed Gein sets about killing a family member whilst being observed calmly by a tea sipping Hitchcock. The macabre situation is downplayed by the mirth of Hitchcock welcoming the audience to the film. It’s a neat little trick that harks back to Alfred Hitchcock Presents…. Unfortunately, the subsequent 90 minutes fail to live up to the promise of this opening gambit and we’re left with a very pedestrian film about nothing in particular. Which is not what you want from a story about the one the most influential films in the last 60 years! Whilst everyone is particularly game, Hopkins displaying a mischievous glint in his eye underneath all his makeup and Mirran brings an iron fist to her Reville, the fault lies with the direction and the script.
For a film about such an auteur, it seems a crime that Sascha Gervasi treats his life with the same panache as a Sunday afternoon TV drama. There’s very little here to suggest that Gervasi’s going to be a powerful narrative director to keep an eye on. Going back to The Girl, there was at least the suggestion that they were giving a nod to the thrillers Hitchcock was famous for. Opening the film with a suggestion that Hitchcock is going to play host to us and then not follow it up at least from an aesthetic point of view, just exposes the limp screenplay even more.
John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay never reveals anything that we didn’t know before – Shock! The censors didn’t like the toilet! Gasp! Janet Leigh had big boobs! Camp! Anthony Perkins was a homosexual! – and when it feels like we are going to get to see behind the curtain, we’re pushed away before we can get a beady eye on anything tangible. Key players seem to trundle along on a conveyor belt, failing to add anything to the proceedings. Joseph Stefano, Psycho’s screenwriter, is harshly treated to a 3 minute cameo at the beginning of the film and is never heard from again! Even Perkins, played by James D’arcy, gets more screentime, contributing nothing more than telling Hitchcock how much he loves his work.
Then there’s the thorny issue of Hitchcock’s delectation for the blondes. On a number of occasions, it is eluded that old Alfie was aggressively fond of his leading ladies, but Hitchcock can’t make its mind up whether he was just being a harmless impotent cuddlebox, or there was something much more sinister at work. Case in point, Hitchcock spies on Vera Miles (Jessica Beil) through a hole in the wall in a deliberate parody of the film he’s making, but then it goes nowhere with it. Whilst The Girl may not be completely truthful, it stands its ground rightly or wrongly. Instead, we are treated to completely fabricated scenes of Hitchcock discussing the film making process with an ethereal Ed Gein. Yes, where Hitchcock’s hands went a wandering probably isn’t relevant to the telling of this story, but we’d argue that it was a damn sight more relevant than suggesting he heard voices in his head.
What feels like it’s going to have some substance, disintegrates immediately. It’s like trying to climb a wall with a rope made of candy floss. With so much to run with in this rich story, Hitchcock fails to make a stab at anything worthwhile.