Directed by: Julian Jarrold.
Written by: Gwyneth Hughes based on the book by Donald Spoto.
Starring: Sienna Miller (Tippi Hedren), Toby Jones (Alfred Hitchcock), Penelope Wilton (Peggy Robertson), Imelda Staunton (Alma Hitchcock), Sean Cameron Michael (Robert Burks), Candice D'Arcy (Josephine Milton), Carl Beukes (Jim Brown).
I’m not going to try and argue that Alfred Hitchcock was a saint – or that he didn’t sexually harass actress Tippi Hendren in a way that no one would get away with anymore. The stories of his obsessions with his blonde leading ladies are legendary, and have been explored at length in a number of books. Even in a largely glowing book like Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, it doesn’t take too much reading between the lines to know that Hitchcock’s relationship with actress Vera Miles most likely crossed a line in terms of Hitchcock’s behavior towards her and her career. What I am going to argue however is that I don’t believe it’s quite as simplistic as the new HBO film The Girl makes it out to be. In this film, Hitchcock makes a sexual advance at Hendren before the shooting of The Birds, she rejects him, and he spends the next two years, over the course of shooting The Birds and then Marnie, torturing her on set, before refusing to let her out of her contract, and essentially stalling, if not ruining, her acting career – which he gave the model turned actress to begin with by casting her in The Birds, even though she had no movie experience. Hitchcock may well have been a perverted asshole – but I don’t think it was all as simple as this movie makes it to be.
The Girl contains three very good performances – much better than the movie itself deserves. As Tippi Hendren herself, Sienna Miller is very good. At first she idolizes Hitchcock – is extremely grateful him offering her the chance to star in one of his movies. She lets herself be guided by Hitchcock – he knows what he wants from her onscreen, and she doesn’t have a clue. She quite likes his Hitchcock’s wife, Alma, as well. She sees them as a quietly dignified British couple. After the sexual advance and the rejection, she becomes defiant – knowing that Hitch is torturing her, but not wanting him to see her as weak, so she withstands everything that he can throw at her. The best thing about Miller’s performance may be how accurately she is able to get the look Hendren has in her eyes during key scenes in The Birds and Marnie – where Hendren truly is great in both movies. The second great performance is by Imelda Staunton as Alma Hitchcock. I don’t think you can argue that the movie accurately portrays her relationship with Hitchcock – who adored her, and valued her as a collaborator on his movies (as the upcoming movie Hitchcock apparently shows), but Staunton is great as a woman who fears losing her husband, so she lets him get away with whatever he wants.
The best performance however belongs to Toby Jones as Hitchcock himself. Jones had the misfortune of giving a very good performance as Truman Capote in Infamous – released just a year after Philip Seymour Hoffman won as Oscar for playing the same role in Capote. He may well be dismissed again, since Anthony Hopkins will play Hitchcock in just a month in Hitchcock – which is getting a theatrical release. But that shouldn’t detract from how well Jones does as Hitchcock – nailing the voice, the mannerisms, and trying his best to make Hitchcock into a complicated character, while the movie spends more time trying to pass him off as a pervert torturing the heroic Hendren. Jones is brilliant in the movie – I just wish the movie could match his performance. If there’s one thing Hitchcock always did well in his best movies, it’s that he made the villain a complex character – think Claude Rains in Notorious or Anthony Perkins in Psycho, or hell, Sean Connery in Marnie. Hitch would never give this much screen time to a one dimensional villain.
Hitchcock may well have been hard on Hendren during the shooting of these two movies – but then again, he was notoriously hard on all of his actors. He had the movie he wanted in his head before he shot a frame of footage, and he did what he needed to do to get what was in his head on the screen. And you can say anything you want about Hitchcock, but he got two great performances out of Hendren – better than she did in the rest of her career. I have no trouble believing that Alfred Hitchcock was a pervert – have you seen Vertigo or Marnie to name but two of his films that deal with sexuality – and he may well have been a complete asshole to Hendren on the set of their two movies together. I just wish that The Girl had any sort of complexity to it at all. Instead, it paints Hendren as a one dimensional heroine as Hitchcock as a one dimensional villain. Both of them deserve a more complex movie to tell their shared story.