2012: The year of Hitchcock biopics

Ever since Paul Merton’s documentaries opened my eyes to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, I’ve eagerly partaken of as many of his films as I could get my hands on. But in 2012, I got the chance to take my interest to a new meta-level, with the release of not one, but two Hitchcock biopics, each focusing on a different slice of the great director’s career. But would they prove to be a worthy investment on time, or just a cash-in on a big name?

The Girl (2012)

Not to be confused with The Girl (2012), The Girl tells the tale of Hitchcock’s obsession with leading lady Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds and Marnie. After seeing her in a commercial, Hitchcock becomes determined to make the beautiful and spirited Hedren into a star, but when she rejects his sexual advances, he uses his role as director to subtly punish her. Too proud to give in, Hedren endures being attacked by real birds for The Birds, and even a rape scene in Marnie. Ultimately, however, she can no longer face working with Hitchcock, but in return, he refuses to release her from her contract, preventing her from taking on acting work with anyone else, and effectively ending her career.

Given the synopsis above, you can easily guess that The Girl doesn’t paint Hitchcock in the most flattering light. He’s manipulative, predatory, unafraid to use harsh words or crude jokes to shock people and put them in their place, and yet even he has scenes where he becomes an object of pathos rather than hatred. By the end of the film, although I could not forgive what Hitchcock had done to Hedren, I couldn’t completely hate someone, although he wanted to be loved like anyone else, was well aware that when people looked him, all they saw was a fat, repulsive old. Similarly, despite the fact that she could have helped Hedren and yet chose not to, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Hitchcock’s wife Alma, who has to live with the knowledge that Hitchcock considers her more of a sister than a lover.

It is these superb, nuanced portrayals of the characters that make The Girl such a compelling film. No, it is not a happy story, but it is still an engaging one, and is definitely highly recommended viewing.

Hitchcock (2012)

Set two years before the events dramatised in The Girl, Hitchcock is based on Hitchcock’s struggle to make the film Psycho, and its effect on his relationship with his wife Alma. Desperate to show that he’s not past his best, Hitchcock hatches a bold idea for a new film, but when he can’t convince studio heads of its merit, he is forced to fund filming out of his own pocket. Financial burdens and Hitchcock’s famed eye for his beautiful leading ladies soon put a strain on his marriage, but in the end it is Alma who must step in and help Psycho become a success.

With a different actor stepping into the shoes of Hitchcock, and a theatrical rather direct to TV release, Hitchcock is a different beast to The Girl. Hitchcock is still a strong-willed, self-styled ladies’ man, but he is played with a bit more of a magisterial air. There’s none of the outrageously crude jokes or outright sexual predation here, and yet ultimately, where Toby Jones of The Girl was Hitchcock, what we have here is just Anthony Hopkins playing Hitchcock. Alongside him, however, we do get the redoubtable Helen Mirren playing Alma, and she certainly does inject the character with plenty of life and personality.

Overall, Hitchcock is a solid, enjoyable movie, but to some extent it suffers from being up against The Girl – it simply lacks that darker edge that makes the latter so engaging. Nonetheless, all fans of Hitchcock and his work should certainly make an effort to watch both films.

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