Over Christmas the BBC decided to celebrate the great Alfred Hitchcock by screening some of his films, including the wonderful Rebecca, and co-producing drama The Girl which portrayed Hitchcock as an abusive sex pest as he directed Tippy Hedren in The Birds. The Girl was a fantastic piece of drama with Toby Jones giving a deep performance as Hitchcock and the film taking a strong, if not necessarily accurate, stance on the type of man Hitchcock was.
Now in cinemas we have Hitchcock which takes place just before The Girl as Hitch (“hold the cock”) tackles his new production of Psycho against the advice of everyone but his long-suffering wife Alma (Helen Mirren). In contrast to the sinister tone of the BBC’s effort Hitchcock has a more jovial atmosphere. Anthony Hopkins plays Hitch with his tongue in his cheek and seems to be aiming more for caricature than for character. The film opens with Hopkins addressing the camera in the style of Hitchcock and this nicely sets the audiences expectations for the rest of the film.
While the main plot is concerned with the less than smooth production of Psycho the more interesting story at play here is the relationship between Alma and Alfred, something that was far from the spotlight in The Girl. As Hitchcock becomes engrossed in his new film, and new muse Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson giving her best performance in a good few years), Alma cheats on him in the worst way possible; by helping to adapt a script for another man. Mirren and Hopkins make for a great dysfunctional couple; much as they may fight there’s an underlying love that breaks through. In a film with little authenticity it offers a glimpse of genuine tenderness.
Where Hitchcock goes slightly astray is in its fantasy sequences involving Ed Gein, the psycho who inspired the novel Psycho which inspired the film Psycho (which later inspired the Gus Van Sant remake Psycho). While the rest of the film is one loose bikini away from becoming Carry On Hitchcock these brief interludes are closer to Carrie than Carry On. Hitchcock dreams about talking to Gein and even starts fantasising about using the psycho as a psychotherapist. The scenes are jarring and have no real impact on the rest of the film so are a bizarre inclusion.
Hitchcock does not fare well from direct comparison with The Girl lacking as it does the dramatic weight, distinct message, and flawless acting of the latter. A direct comparison isn’t exactly helpful though as they are two different beast. The characters involved may share names but they do not share personalities and neither do the films; one is most certainly a drama and the other more of a comedy. The two films can contradict each other and still co-exist.
For my money Hitchcock is just as valid as The Girl; it is less enthralling but makes up for it in entertainment value.