28 December 2012

The Girl

The Girl
The Girl is a BBC/HBO co-production dramatising the making of Alfred Hitchcock's films The Birds and Marnie, and Hitchock's relationship with his leading lady, Tippi Hedren. Toby Jones stars as Hitchcock, and Sienna Miller plays Hedren.

Directed by Julian Jarrold, it premiered on HBO on 20th October and was broadcast on BBC2 on 26th December. It's one of several fictionalised films about the making of real films, including My Week With Marilyn, Gods & Monsters, Ed Wood, RKO281, and Shadow Of The Vampire.

It's not the only Hitchcock biopic this year: Anthony Hopkins also played him, in the film Hitchcock, about the making of Psycho - a film that The Girl refers to both directly and indirectly. The Hopkins film takes some liberties with the facts, suggesting that Hitchcock's wife Alma contemplated adultery, and making tenuous connections between Hitchcock and Ed Gein.

In contrast, The Girl aims for more authenticity. Its screenplay was based on Spellbound By Beauty by Donald Spoto, who also wrote the authoritative The Dark Side Of Genius and The Art Of Alfred Hitchcock. Tippi Hedren herself was a consultant on the project, and we have to rely on her account of what happened on the film sets and in her dressing room.

Hedren's screen test, however, is easy to verify, and its atmosphere is misrepresented in The Girl. The screen test recreated in The Girl presents Hitchcock as a voyeur, making an uncomfortable Hedren kiss an impassive Martin Balsam, played by an older, unattractive actor. In the real screen test, however, Hitchcock can be heard joking with Hedren and Balsam, putting them both at their ease, and Hedren and Balsam - both New Yorkers - have a friendly rapport.

Whether Hitchcock was really guilty of sexual harassment, as The Girl alleges, we will probably never know for sure. Precisely what he said or tried to do remains unclear, though his awkward lunges and advances are plausibly portrayed in The Girl. Presumably he was more forward with Hedren because he felt that he had discovered her, in contrast to the untouchable icons (such as Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman) he had previously worked with.

Toby Jones is too short, though he captures Hitchcock's voice flawlessly. Anthony Hopkins made little attempt at a vocal impersonation, though he had a more appropriate stature. Jones is an increasingly prolific actor: in the past few years, I've seen him in Snow White & The Huntsman, The Hunger Games, The Adventures Of Tintin, My Week With Marilyn, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Captain America, The Rite, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows I-II, Frost/Nixon, and The Mist.

The supporting cast includes Imelda Staunton, entirely convincing as Alma Hitchcock, in contrast to Helen Mirren's miscast role in the Anthony Hopkins version. Penelope Wilton plays her standard drippy character, ideal in Shaun Of The Dead, though inappropriate for Hitchcock's sharp assistant Peggy Robertson.