A film review by Craig J. Koban October 23, 2012



2012, no MPAA rating, 100 mins.


Toby Jones: Alfred Hitchcock / Sienna Miller: Tippi Hedren / Imelda Staunton: Alma Hitchcock / Carl Beukes: Jim Brown / Penelope Wilton: Peggy Robertson 

- Directed by Julian Jarrold / Written by Gwyneth Hughes 

If you’ve been living under a proverbial rock and have never heard of Alfred Hitchcock or have never seen any of his masterful films, then the new HBO telefilm THE GIRL will have you believe that the master of cinematic suspense and one of the greatest directors of all-time was disgusting control freak, a textbook misogynist, a self-loathingly impotent being, and a sex starved and abusive sadist that took great relish in nurturing and then ruining a blossoming actress’ career. 

I have no doubt that “Hitch” was a difficult man to work with; he was a film auteur that most likely had fastidiousness that conflicted with many on his crew.  But THE GIRL – directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Gwyneth Hughes, based on the Donald Spoto’s book SPELLBOUND BY BEAUTY – does not seem at all interested in investigating the subtleties of Hitchcock's film craft or probe deeply into the psychology that made him truly tick.  Instead, the film seems to be more interested in cheap titillation and sensationalism, venturing through scene after scene of humiliating character assassination of one of the movies’ most iconic artisans.  All in all, Hitch in this film is a fat, amoral, and disreputable slimeball, and the scripting is so paper thin, hollow-minded, and frustratingly one-sided in this regard that it’s really hard to take it seriously. 

To be fair, through, the film seems to accurately point out some established facts regarding his relationship with Tippi Hedren and their collaboration on the making of THE BIRDS, which was Hitchcock’s first film after PSYCHO, leaving the filmmaker with something definitive to prove.  That film “introduced” the world to Hedren, who was a successful fashion model in the 1950’s before Hitchcock saw her beautiful face on a TV commercial.  He thought at the time that he could replicate Grace Kelly’s and Janet Leigh’s blonde sex appeal, and he was obsessive with making Hedren and THE BIRDS a sensation.  He signed her to a multi-year contract, but when all was said and done, Hedren only appeared In THE BIRDS and MARNIE, as she declined to work with the director ever again afterwards.  He subsequently refused to let her out of her contract and her career was blackballed and derailed just as it was getting started. 



So, yes, Hitchcock was a control freak, to be sure, but was he really a deviant sexual predator of Hedren, as THE GIRL attests?  The film introduces us to Hedren (Sienna Miller, not a dead ringer for the actress, but she captures her screen essence rather well), who was an unknown model before appearing at a $25,000 budgeted audition for THE BIRDS.  It seems that Hitchcock (Toby Jones, capturing the icon’s vocal intonations rather flawlessly, even if he – like Miller – does not look precisely like his real-life counterpart) has a fetishistic fascination with her, as he commands her – while cameras are rolling -  to embrace and passionately kiss a man on a couch.  She hesitates, after which Hitchcock dryly lashes out at her, “You’ve draped yourself around a man before?”  The scene is kind of intriguing, showing Hedren as a woman driven to do anything to make a name for herself; she succumbs to Hitch’s commands. 

Yet, did Hitchcock see any thespian ability in Hedren that would make her a worthy leading lady?  Or, was she a good actress that was simply intimidated and frightened of Hitchcock?  THE GIRL is decidedly and frustratingly iffy in this regard.  Certainly, Hedren realized that her financial future was in question if she never landed the movie gig, but was she completely and unalterably forced and frightened into a good performance by her sneering and lecherous director?  It does not take very long in the film to show Hitchcock’s amorous desires of Hedren brought to the forefront, especially during one nasty moment when he forces himself upon her that could be almost described as a rape attempt.   

Hedren refused to turn herself over physically to Hitchcock, which strained their relationship, but the film equally strains to use this to explain how Hitchcock mistreated her on set.  There is the infamous story of how Hitchcock filmed the final attack scene in the THE BIRDS using real animals instead of animatronic ones, which the director apparently promised Hedren would indeed be fake.  Hedren then had to hellishly endure days of protected prop men hurling ravens and crows at her, which left her a bloody and traumatized mess.  When Hitch is not humiliating his actress in front of the camera or forcing himself on her in the back seat of a car, he tells her non-workplace-friendly X-rated limericks and makes further icky verbal advances on her.  The more the film progressed the more the gulf between reality and fiction seemed to infuriatingly blur. 

The performances here are utterly thankless considering the lackluster and superficial scripting.  Miller is an underrated actress and she has a difficult task of carrying the film, portraying all of Hedren’s nagging self-doubts and anxiety while, at the same time, plausibly evoking an actress that may have been just mediocre (I think it’s hard for a good performer to purposely play wooden line readings).  Jones is no stranger to playing real figures (he did so very well in INFAMOUS portraying Truman Capote) and he has a leg up on Anthony Hopkins, who is playing Hitchcock in an upcoming feature film.  Obvious prosthetic makeup transforms the already portly Jones into the massive frame of Hitchcock (which does look better than what’s on Hopkins in the teasers for HITCHCOCK), but Jones is creepily accurate with rendering Hitch’s body mannerisms and vocal timbre.  It’s just a shame that he is forced to essential play a caricature of the artist and not a fully rendered and more complex version of him.

THE GIRL is filled with so many nagging conundrums that I got a migraine just thinking about them.  If Hedren was the victim of abuse, then why would anyone on the set – let alone Hitchcock’s own wife (Imelda Staunton) – allow this to happen repeatedly?  Why would she also allow herself to be subjugated to such emotional horrors?  And, quite frankly, why did Hitchcock treat her in such a manner?  What were his motivations and/or impulses?  Did he treat just Hedren alone in this manner or all of his leading ladies, and if so why have they never come forward to make scandalous accusations against the man?  Lastly, the film seems to point out that Hedren was talentless as far as actresses go and required Hitchcock to bully her into being a solid screen performer, which is kind of insulting to her reputation and legacy as a film star. 

I sincerely mean no disrespect to Hedren at all here.  It’s just that THE GIRL opens up a floodgate of controversial ideas and supposed – and polarizing  – facts and then never feels obligated to explore them thoroughly.  It wants us – nay…forces us - to assume that Hitchcock was sick, demented, and ethically repulsive, but this portrayal is so wickedly grotesque that I found myself questioning its credibility by the time the film concluded.  Hedren – if everything in this film actually happened - is a brave an intrepid soul that put up with Hitchcock long after any other sane performer would have, and the fact that Hitchcock did stunt her career and effectively sabotage it is a damning indictment of the filmmaker.  The real problem with THE GIRL, though, is that it feebly attempts psychological depth with its reality-based story and personas, only to fall victim to soap opera worthy contrivances and lurid conjecture. 


CrAiGeR's other

Film Reviews:


RECOUNT  (2008 jjjj


TAKING CHANCE  (2009 jj1/2


TEMPLE GRANDIN  (2010 jjjj




YOU DON'T KNOW JACK  (2010 jjjj




CINEMA VERITE  (2011 jj1/2


GAME CHANGE  (2012) jjj




PHIL SPECTOR  (2013) jjj




CLEAR HISTORY  (2013) jjj



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