Poor Toby Jones. First he gets to star in the other version of Truman Capote’s story in ‘Infamous’, and now he gets the other Hitchcock biography. But where Sasha Gervasi’s ‘Hitchcock’ retold the making of ‘Psycho’ with elegance and élan, journeyman director Julian Jarrold’s ‘The Girl’ is a one-note hatchet job that works hard to alienate its audience. Although based on the book ‘Spellbound by Beauty’ by the respected cinema writer Donald Spoto, it has such a creepy, grubby feel that you want to stop watching.
Sienna Miller plays Tippi Hedren and Imelda Staunton is Alma Reville, while Jones essays a voice-perfect Hitch, who only lacks the director’s bulk to be a true match. All turn in superb performances – especially Miller – but they’re given little to work with. Gwyneth Hughes fails to provide much of a script beyond what everyone knows; that Hitchcock took an unknown and turned her into an actress for ‘The Birds’ and ‘Marnie’, deliberately unsettling her with filthy jokes and repeated takes that forced something less assured and smug from the former model.
Here, however, ‘The Girl’ goes further, having Hitchcock molest Hedren in a car and deliberately set out to destroy his creation by repeatedly making her suffer on and off set. The film ends without conclusion, beyond a suggestion that Hitch needed his women to be emotionally frozen, and entirely lacks the grace of the current Hopkins version. Instead, Hitchock comes over as a boorish, nasty-minded, vindictive sex-pest with no redeeming features, who bullied a noble, empowered woman fighting back against a cruel monster. But it feels lazy and inept to present Hedren like this, especially when there are no new revelations here, just blunter versions of the old ones.
I have no trouble with the interpretation – after all, the now 82 year-old Tippi Hedren approved it – but the stories seem to have become embellished over the years. Why didn’t she work with other directors? Why did she never achieve the same heights of performance? I have a faint connection to her, as Hedren starred in a film based on a story of mine, and although I didn’t meet her then I met her funny and charming daughter Melanie Griffiths, so I was keen to see this. I really wish I hadn’t, not because it felled an idol but because it does so little credit to anyone.
The BBC, who made the film with HBO, recently embarked on a series of TV movie exposes of beloved comics, from Hancock to Howerd, Kenneth Williams and Steptoe and son, showing the backstage darkness away from the camera lights. But when I spoke to Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, they professed themselves unhappy with the BBC’s portrayal of Wilfred Bramble and Harry Corbett, suggesting that they were always at each other’s throats. Quite the reverse, they said, the pair were perfect professionals and good friends, with only a little friction occurring over their later touring contract. Having exhausted the sub-genre (I notice they didn’t go after ITV star Benny Hill, who was a legendary womaniser) they appear to have chosen backstage movies as a more exportable version of the warts-and-all expose. Judging from this outing there won’t be any more.