The Girl is a TV movie about the three year working relationship between Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) and his two time leading lady Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) star of TheBirds and Marnie. The plot, which has been widely criticised by people who knew the great Director, focuses on his attraction towards his starlet and her rebuff of his advances. Much like a great Hitchcock thriller the film takes a dark turn as Hitch forces Hedren to go through arduous scenes over and over again and puts her in compromising positions sexually.
I’m a fairly new convert to Hitchcock having seen seven of his films in the last year, all for the first time. The Birds is one of the few Hitchcock movies I had seen before I began blogging but not for a long time. It’s been on my list to watch for a few months but I hadn’t got around to it yet and this put me in a quandary; what to watch first? I decided to watch The Girl before re-watching The Birds but now I’m slightly fearful that its portrayal of the Director may put me off the film and perhaps Hitchcock in general.
The film pulls no punches with regards to Hitchcock’s character and it’s not surprising that many people who knew him have leaped to his defence and criticised the portrayal. It paints Hitch as a sort of dirty old man, preying on younger women. It’s common knowledge that Hitchcock had a thing for blondes on screen at least. Kim Novak, Tippie Hedren, Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint and Vera Miles all starred in his thrillers and all have a similar classic, young, beautiful blonde look. What The Girl postulates is that Hitchcock’s motives for this typecasting were for his own sexual gratification, a theory which Vertigo star Kim Novak has come out and flatly denied. The Alfred Hitchcock of The Girl is a lonely figure who although surrounded by people who love and adore him is empty and longs for something different. In one telling scene he speaks openly, albeit it when drunk, with his Assistant Director, telling him that he’d give up all the fame, the movies, the money to look like him. It is made brutally obvious in this scene that Hitch believes his looks and iconic stature has held him back in his quest to seduce women.
Putting the plot to one side the film has several good aspects to it. South Africa doubles wonderfully for 1960s L.A. and the period detail is impeccable. The central performances are also exquisite. Toby Jones delivers a blinding performance as Hitchcock. His cold exterior but frantic, darting insides are perfectly balanced in a deeply nuanced performance. The makeup and fat suit also add realism and little things like the way he carries himself make all the difference. Sienna Miller isn’t an actress I’ve had much time for in the past. Often better known for being hounded by the press than her acting, here she is perfectly cast and pulls it off wonderfully. She displays all the classic beauty, grace and sophistication you’d expect and like Hedren, manages to withstand all that Hitch throws at her. Both actors have been nominated for Golden Globes and I just hope that the upcoming Psycho based Hitchcock biopic Hitchcock doesn’t overshadow the two actors. Supporting actors Penelope Wilton and Imelda Staunton also deserve a lot of praise for their smaller roles. Both are excellent.
The film avoids parodying Hitchcock's work with the use of the sort of camera angles and suspense which he was so famous for. Occasionally it will evoke the sense of Hitch but rarely does it go all out to copy him. For me this was a good choice. I would have liked to have seen the odd Hitchcock flourish but by avoiding it the film is able to separate itself from the cannon of the Director and avoids falling into mere copycat film making. What we are treated to though are a couple of recreations of famous shots but often seen from behind the camera. On one occasion we also see a very accurate recreation of a shot from Marnie as seen through the camera which is very powerful. The period detail and costume design gives more than enough of a spirit of Hitchcock without the film having to attempt a carbon copy of his work.
The Girl is an interesting film but because of the severe accusations it throws at one of its leads, it is difficult to know who or what to believe. Taken for what it is, it is a fascinating insight into what may be a slightly fictionalised period in the life of one of cinema’s most enduring Directors. Taken literally it shows the man to be some what of a monster and with the closing titles that say The Girl and Hitch never worked together again and that The Birds and Marnie were his two last great films, this film seems to suggest that by beating Hitchcock, Hedren somehow sent his career on a downward spiral. The two things could be coincidental but like so much in The Girl, it raises an interesting question which like the other questions raised, it is probably impossible to answer.