The first of two Hitchcock biopics this fall, The Girl comes to us from HBO Films and offers a less than flattering view of director Alfred Hitchcock.
The Girl focuses on Hitchcock’s relationship with actress Tippi Hedren, who starred in Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie. It was a tumultuous relationship, marked with abuse on set and sexual advances off. Hitch’s abuse of Hedren on set - substituting real birds for the mechanical ones with no warning, and working her to the point of exhaustion and beyond - was well-documented and add to the mythology of Hitch’s genius. Less well-known - yet not out of character - were Hitch’s often violent passes at his “Girl,” like during the filming of Marnie when Hitchcock locked Hedren in his office and informed her that she would make herself available to him sexually whenever and wherever he demanded.
Biopics like this are tough because the filmmakers’ sympathies tend to lie with one side of the story or the other. In The Girl, Hedren is clearly the sympathetic character. On the one hand, the allegations of sexual improprieties seem completely within character for Hitchcock, who was notorious for having a preoccupation with fetishes and eroticism; but at the same time, it seems strange that this is the first we are hearing of this (or at least, the first I am hearing about this.)
Sienna Miller’s portrayal of Tippi Hedren is fascinating in that she is portrayed as both very strong and pathetically weak. She stands up for herself and does not give in to Hitch’s sexual advances... but at the same time, she agrees to a second picture with him, even after he attacks her in the back of a chauffeured car. Toby Jones is stunningly unrecognizable behind the Alfred Hitchcock makeup and affectation. The recreation of some of the most famous scenes from The Birds were dead-on. HBO Films rarely disappoints on quality films, and The Girl is no exception.
Ultimately, this TV movie is for fans of Hitchcock and devotees of cinema history. It is a largely “quiet” film - even the moments of violence (Hitchcock’s attack on Tippi in the car, or the scenes on set of Tippi being bombarded by real birds) are restrained. In that way, The Girl resembles Hitchcock’s own films, where he lets the violence speak for itself. Casual fans may be shocked by Hitchcock’s seemingly cold exterior and extreme methods; those who are more familiar with Hitchcock will see it as a window into his brilliance. Either way, it is a compelling two hours that will certainly be a favorite at next year’s Emmys.
The Girl had its premiere on October 20th on HBO. It will be on a regular rotation on the channel throughout the month, as well as available on HBO On Demand and HBO Everywhere.