The Girl, 2012.
Directed by Julian Jarrold.
Starring Toby Jones, Sienna Miller, Penelope Wilton, Imelda Staunton, Sean Cameron Michael, Candice D’Arcy, Carl Beukes, Conrad Kemp and Adrian Galley.
Cast as the lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, unknown actress Tippi Hedren finds herself the target of the filmmaker’s sexual desires as he attempts to mold her into the ultimate ‘Hitchcock blonde’.
It’s the early 1960s and British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) is preparing to follow up his masterpiece, Psycho. For his next project, Hitch is planning his most ambitious feature to date, and every actress in Hollywood is vying for the role of Melanie Daniels, the female lead in The Birds. However, the legendary director has his sights set on an unknown – a young model by the name of Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller), whom he believes he can mold into the ultimate ‘Hitchcock blonde’. Plucked from obscurity, Hedren is thrust into the limelight as the star of The Birds and Hitchcock’s subsequent film Marnie, but her success comes at a high price as she finds herself the victim of the director’s increasingly obsessive sexual desires.
Co-produced by the BBC and HBO Films, director Julian Jarrold’s (Brideshead Revisited) made-for-TV movie The Girl presents us with a study of the troubled relationship between the legendary director and his leading lady, as well as a fascinating insight into the creation of both The Birds and the under-appreciated Marnie. However, it’s also extremely blunt in its depiction of Hitchcock as la sadistic sexual predator – a bitter, cruel and lecherous old man whose abhorrent behaviour is tolerated solely for his ability to churn out classic after classic. While Hedren has described the film as an accurate account, several of the director’s former stars and associates have come forward to speak out in his defense. Clearly there’s some degree of truth to the events, but it’s a shame that the producers chose to present such a one-sided portrayal – and hammer this home time and time again – as it detracts from what is otherwise a fairly solid drama.
Authenticity issues aside, The Girl does a good job of recreating the period setting, along with several iconic scenes from Hitchcock and Hedren’s two films – most notably, the phone booth and attic attacks from The Birds, the latter of which sees Hedren pelted with live birds for five days on end as Hitch ‘searches for the perfect take’ and punishes her for rejecting his advances. Sienna Miller gives one of her best performances as the naive and inexperienced actress, and she is ably backed up by a solid supporting cast that includes Imedla Staunton (Vera Drake) as Alma Reville and Penelope Wilton (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) as Peggy Robertson. However, like all of his movies, the real star of the show here is Alfred Hitchcock, and Toby Jones delivers an excellent turn, capturing the Master’s voice and mannerisms to perfection whilst managing to add some depth to the one-dimensional character he’s been given. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal in Hitchcock, but as I’m yet to see Hitchcock, those comparisons won’t be drawn by me – although I will say that based upon what I’ve seen of Hopkins’ in the various Hitchcock trailers, I’ll be impressed if he manages to match what Jones has accomplished here.
Overall, The Girl makes for interesting enough viewing and is definitely worth picking up if you’re a fan of Hitchcock (and can get over the completely negative portrayal), or if you have an interest in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Still, by overlooking Hitchcock’s motivations entirely and presenting him as little more than a dirty old man, The Girl comes off more as a missed opportunity than a masterpiece.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Gary Collinson is a writer and lecturer from the North East of England. He is the editor-in-chief of FlickeringMyth.com and the author of Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen.