He may have been dead for thirty two years, but 2012 has been a pretty big year for Sir Alfred Hitchcock. Following a three month cinema programme at the British Film Institute, plus Vertigo knocking Citizen Kane off the top spot in Sight & Sound’s Best Films of all Time critic’s poll, we now get two semi-biopics on the Master of Suspense. With Hollywood’s Sir Anthony Hopkins fronted Hitchcock set for European release in early 2013, the TV movie The Girl also sees the BBC and HBO cashing in at the disturbed genius’ expense. Does it do the ‘best director of all time’ justice? Does it fuck.
Based on Donald Spoto’s acclaimed biography ‘Spellbound by Beauty’, it follows Hitchcock’s tumultuous relationship with blonde starlet Tippi Hedbern. After the success of his acclaimed masterpiece Psycho, the filmmaker (played here by Toby Jones) leaves Janet Leigh at the Bates Motel and searches for a new muse. A penchant for beautiful blondes, he is enchanted by Tippi (Sienna Miller), an American model desperate for her big break and a better life for her daughter, Melanie (aka, Melanie Griffiths – fun fact). Setting up a curious bond, together the pair went on to direct and star in two of Hitchcock’s latter day masterpieces The Birds and Marnie. But beneath the great movies lie dark, ultimately well-documented stories of anguish and manipulation, leading the obsessive Hitchcock to blacklist Tippi from the industry, with only a Golden Globe nomination to her name.
What’s more annoying than it’s lewd, biased depiction of Hitchcock is how director Julian Jarrold can take such a fascinating story and make a film so mind-numbingly dull; complete with hackneyed dream sequences and inexplicably ‘TV film’ stinted ambition. The smashing telephone box in The Birds – one of the most striking scenes of cinema history – is presented so tediously that it starts to denigrate Hitchcock’s own movie.
After this, there’s more torture, followed by Sienna Miller in the shower. Then a bit more torture, and a bit more shower. Whilst it may be uncomfortable, in trying to reveal the despicable on-set acts that Hitchcock did – or perhaps didn’t – commit, the repetition and lack of genuine narrative ideas only distances us from Tippi’s horrid abuse.
Even if the film is ghastly, the performances aren’t bad. Imelda Staunton is underused as Hitch’s strong-willed wife, Alma Hitchcock. Miller has that ravenous star quality about her which, like Hepdern, she has yet to fully materialise on. The best thing about the film entirely is Toby Jones’ magnificent Hitch. Despite some face crippling prosthetic, his methodical character study has really paid off, not only sounding like the once inimitable man, but awkwardly moving, staring and laughing just like him. manages to embody and miraculously sound like the once inimitable great director. Just like his turn as Truman Capote in 2005’s Infamous, the performance far outlives the film it’s stuck in.
In a twist of fate, The Girl plays out much like a disappointing Hitchcock movie – like 1949’s Under Capricorn – initially promising, but the cloak of mystery is lifted and what lies beneath is something embittered and unremarkable.
PS – If you’re residing in the UK (or maybe if you’re not. I don’t know how these things work) you can watch The Girl at BBC iPlayer until Jan 2nd, 2013. Obviously, it doesn’t come recommended.