Synopsis: Starring Toby Jones as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Hedren, The Girl tells the story of the director’s obsessive relationship with his leading lady during the making of The Birds and Marnie. As he attempted to sculpt Hedren into the perfect blonde of his imagination, Hitchcock became obsessed with the impossible dream of winning the real woman’s love. Her rejection of his misguided attempts only added to his obsession, putting both their careers and personal lives in jeopardy. The Girl is a complex tale of power, obsession, and the price exacted for stardom.
The Girl 7.5
eyelights: its account of the making of ‘The Birds’ and ‘Marnie’.
eyesores: Tobe Jones. Sienna Miller.
“Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.” – Alfred Hitchcock
‘The Girl’ is a 2012 television docu-drama based on the book ‘Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies’, by Donald Spoto. The film focuses on the growingly tense relationship between director Alfred Hitchcock and his leading lady, Tippi Hedren, during the making of ‘The Birds’ and ‘Marnie’.
Titled after the nickname that Hitchcock used in reference to Hedren, the picture has drawn quite a lot of controversy, with many of Hitchcock’s past cast, crew and associates denouncing the events portrayed in it – in particular, the allegations that he was obsessed with Hedren and frequently harassed her.
These allegations stem from Hedren herself, who has discussed these matters at length in recent years, saying that she still respected Hitchcock’s brilliance as a filmmaker and didn’t feel as though he had damaged her life – although she also stated that he purposely hampered her career in the end.
“He giveth, and he taketh away”, says The Girl.
I had no idea of the controversy surrounding ‘The Girl’ when I sat down to watch it, but I had heard some talk about Hitch’s obsession with his leading ladies: he did spend a lot of time shaping their image and had an unusual fascination with blondes. And I knew of the abuse that Hedren suffered on ‘The Birds’.
So it didn’t surprise or faze me one bit to see the events unfold the way they do in ‘The Girl’: how Hitch groomed Hedren (dictated what to wear, make-up, …etc.), how tensions built after she rebuffed his advances, how he got his revenge by putting her at risk on the set, and how she had a nervous breakdown.
But I was surprised to see him portrayed as a stalker, that he would call Hedren at home -hound her, really- hoping to eventually win her over. That he would constantly spew off obscenely dirty limericks to the cast and crew. Or that he eventually tried to blackmail Hedren into giving in, telling her that she owed him.
And that his spouse, Alma, was aware and did nothing to stop him, despite Hedren’s pleas.
This is not the way that I had imagined things, and it left me slightly incredulous – especially since many of these events took place behind closed doors, with no witnesses. Since these types of docu-dramas often tweak the truth for dramatic purposes (even ‘Hitchcock‘ did that), I wasn’t sure what to believe.
But, for all my issues with the facts and fictions of the picture, other things nagged at me: the main cast.
Alfred Hitchcock is incarnated here by Toby Jones. While it’s an okay interpretation of the Master of Suspense, to me he wasn’t Hitch: he certainly didn’t look like him, despite all the make-up, his frame didn’t seem right, and even his accent seemed discrepant with all the recordings I heard through the years (although Hedren herself says that Jones did the voice perfectly. I guess she would know.). So I was constantly reminded that this was a movie, not reality. Even though Hopkins also didn’t sell me his performance, he got Hitch’s personality more, it seemed. Toby was creepier, not as classy.
Sienna Miller plays Tippi Hedren. Like Hedren, she began her career as a model, then transitioned to acting. For some reason, I didn’t like her on-screen presence: I didn’t see Hedren there – I saw someone impersonating her. And for some reason even her appearance bothered me; she seemed more girlish than ice queen. Having said this, I always disliked Hedren in ‘The Birds’ and ‘Marnie’ so perhaps Miller tapped into the part better than I thought, in a subtle way. Either way, Hedren was apparently quite pleased with this bit of casting (again, she should know).
There was one bit of casting that I quite enjoyed, and it was Imelda Staunton as Hitch’s spouse, Alma. I must admit that it’s for superficial reasons, because I think she looks the part a little bit (whereas Helen Mirren didn’t at all). The only problem is that she doesn’t have any fire, any of the strength shown in ‘Hitchcock’ or that you would expect from a woman who was such a tight partner of Hitch’s. Here she’s depicted as average, meak, weak. And worse: she’s also portrayed as an enabler. Ick. Mirren’s Alma would have opened up a can of whoop@$$.
But, let’s face it, Alma is merely a secondary figure in this teleplay: ‘The Girl’ is really Hitchcock and Hedren. It shows that, despite the abuse, even after the emotionally and physically exhausting 40+ takes of the scene in the attic, she always found a way to bounce back, to soldier on; she was unflappable.
The picture suggests that part of the reason why Hitchcock may have been obsessed with Hedren is precisely because she wouldn’t give in. He wanted to win her over but couldn’t, so he’d push her as far as he could to break her down. She was that itch that he simply could not scratch and that wouldn’t go away.
In the end, Hedren endured over three years of this working relationship with Hitchcock, before he decided to sit on her contract until it expired, essentially killing her career. Although it was an ordeal, Hedren says that she learned a lot and there were good moments – otherwise she wouldn’t have stuck through it.
Although it’s likely that we’ll never be able to confirm or disprove either side’s account of those years, ‘The Girl’ is nonetheless an engrossing picture. Granted, had the cast been much stronger, more credible, it might have resonated more, felt more real. But even as fact-based fiction, it’s worth seeing.
‘The Girl’ is not entirely for the birds.
Date of viewing: November 4, 2014