It seems almost impossible to talk about Julian Jarrold’s BBC/HBO drama The Girl (2012) without mentioning Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock (2012) – starring Anthony Hopkins as the ‘Master of Suspense’ – in the same breath. Whilst comparisons will undoubtedly be made they each have very different agendas with Jarrold’s proving to be both the more interesting and entertaining of the two. Set during the making of The Birds (1963), we open to the piercing eyes of Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller), a model who would be made into a star by British horror icon Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones), in his follow up to the box-office horror smash, Psycho (1960).
Hedren is (as Hitchcock always liked his heroines) a blonde bombshell – as he puts it, “They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.” Although Hedren is inexperienced as an actress, Hitch sees in her the ideal woman to be modelled into his perfect leading lady. Hitchcock initially appears to be a prince charming, making all her dreams come true, but it turns out that once the glass slipper is on the foot there is a price to be paid and her prince is more of a frog than a white knight. There has already been a backlash against Jarrold’s rendition of Hollywood history, which draws upon Donald Sporto’s The Dark Side of Genius.
Hitch is portrayed as a bully when the star-to-be rejects his advances, and forces Hedren to do retake after traumatic retake during the now famous attic scene in which crows and ravens peck at her, leaving her a quivering bloody wreck until the auteur shouts “cut”. Jones’ fine, reserved and faultless portrayal shows the great man as a sexual predator, casting women he wanted to bed, as wife Alma Reville (Imelda Staunton) complicity sits in the wings watching her husband prey on the next blonde bombshell. It’s easy to understand those who have criticised Jarrold’s painting Hitchcock as the boss from hell, a sexual predator who felt up his stars and, above all, as a paranoid control freak with a lust for blondes.
Of course, Hitch isn’t here to defend himself, but since when have movies (whether made for TV or the big screen) been overly respectful of such things? Treated as an idea, a single opinion (one that accords with the real Tippi’s accounts) and not as history, it is a very interesting premise, executed with finesse and style. This is a gripping tale of obsession, carefully crafted in a lavish 1960s aesthetic and a story arc that builds the tension as Hitch spirals down and down in his increasing infatuation with Tippi, accompanied by a tremendously bluesy, sultry score from Phillip Miller.
Miller’s performance as Hedren is remarkable not only for her physical appearance but in the way she balances the strengths and weakness of her character making for sympathetic viewing as she is pushed further and further to the limit. The historical validity of The Girl will forever be questioned, but as entertainment both Jones and Miller give absorbing performances contained in a carefully crafted screenplay, that makes for an enthralling 90 minutes of drama that far surpasses the bigger budget forthcoming cinematic release.
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