It’s academy season, which means a movie a night for many of us. It’s not often you get to grill Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Anthony Hopkins, but last night, crammed into a tiny preview theatre in Soho, a few of us did after the screening of ‘Hitchcock’. If a film is poor then this kind of close-up Q&A can prove awkward, but thankfully the movie is a gem.
It’s a growing sub-category, movies on movies, the most enlightening example being ‘Gods and Monsters’ about James Whale and ‘Frankenstein’, the worst being ‘My Week With Marilyn’. ‘Hitchcock’ covers the period after the reception of ‘North By Northwest’ when Paramount wanted Hitch to make more lighthearted spy movies and he knew he had to test himself with something more stripped-back and dark.
As the investors back away from the idea of bringing the story of Ed Gein to the screen, Hitch not only finds himself having to put up his house to raise cash for the project, but must face his wife Alma’s increasing resistance to his autocratic attitude. As they start filming, long-present stresses begin to take their toll…
It’s a beautifully crafted script that has something original to say about the creative process, but what first intrigues is whether or not Hopkins is believable as Hitchcock. He has the mannerisms (leaning back, speaking only with the lips) and the fat suit, and after five minutes you accept this amalgam of actor and director. But Hopkins also manages to reveal Hitch’s darker side, making him sometimes seem like a character from one of his own movies. His unblinking stillness and habit of sitting in the dark thinking is quite unnerving.
Scarlett Johannson is fine as Janet Leigh, but this is largely Mirren’s show as the iron lady behind Hitch who has put up with her role out of the spotlight for three decades. Two scenes will be repeated come awards time; Mirren’s angry speech about what her life consists of, and Hitchcock orchestrating the screams from Psycho’s shower scene while standing outside the closed cinema doors.
James D’Arcy only has a couple of scenes playing Anthony Perkins but steals them both, simply because you’ll swear the young Perkins came back to life for the movie. His impersonation is downright eerie. The project was eight years in development, but finally found the right director in Sasha Gervasi.