Continuing the increased publicity and interest in the life of “The Master of Suspense”, Toby Jones dons the bulbous stomach and jowly cheeks of Alfred Hitchcock for a slow burning character study into the director’s obsession with The Girl.
With the summer of 2012 having seen a detailed retrospective into Hitchcock’s earliest works in the silent era take place at London’s BFI, and of course with Sir Anthony Hopkins taking on the cinematic icon in February 2013, it seems that appreciation for Alfred Hitchcock has never been higher. This of course is not anything to criticise, as it would be hard work to find anyone with even a small amount of film knowledge who would downplay the importance of Hitchcock as a historic figure in cinema. His work defined the genre, and still does to this day, and is wholly never questioned. It is perhaps for this reason that it is his private life that is now of interest.
The working relationship that Hitchcock had with his leading ladies is always going to grab interest. For example, stories have always circulated regarding his treatment of Janet Leigh during the filming of Psycho (such as leaving a prosthetic corpse in her dressing room to see how loud she would scream), as have those concerning Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds and Marnie. This is the subject of The Girl, which sees Sienna Miller well cast as the beauty that captured Alfred’s attention so strongly.
The story follows the working relationship between the pair, through the filming of both of the films that they worked on together. As their professional lives become more reliant on each other, Alfred begins an obsession that soon becomes almost threatening to his star. Sadly, the depiction of Hitchcock as some sort of lewd sexual predator is not one that is written well enough to be accepted. This is predictable as the film opens with the assertion that it is based on extensive research, and interviews with Tippi Hedren herself, almost as if to try and force you to accept it as gospel. However, this sadly allows the drama to unfold fairly lazily.
As Alfred’s advances are spurned, he slowly begins to punish Tippi, both physically and mentally. Toby Jones’ portrayal is effective, with his slow drawling voice and Hitchcockian plodding walk carrying the authenticity of the performance. However, he is sadly confined by a script that does not give him enough to do. Jones’s recent film work has shown that he has the ability, but he is unable to fully flex his acting muscles due to limited exposition, a surprise considering the film’s subject matter.
Sienna Miller is a fine choice for the role of Tippi Hedren, as her appearance in this role is just as important as her acting quality (she is the titular girl after all). Imelda Staunton does well to portray Alfred’s long-suffering wife Alma, despite the extremely small amount of screen time that she is afforded. The rest of the supporting cast are well placed in their roles, with only the repeated presence of forced American accents to account for any annoyance.
The real problem with The Girl is that either the subject is not worthy of such attention, or that it was merely not given the right treatment. Of course, the idea of Hitchcock’s malevolent fixation on the leading lady of two of his most well known films seems like a wonderful opportunity for a study in obsession and misogyny, but what we are given is an underwhelming version of that story, leading to a predictable end. Interesting nonetheless, but sadly disappointing.