On Saturday night I watched HBO’s The Girl, based on the real-life relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren. A long time, huge Hitchcock fan, I was intrigued and had been eagerly awaiting this film. I’ve seen all of his movies, starting in high school when I rented every single one from the local video store in Atlanta, where I grew up. When you look at the films Hitchcock made in his lifetime, it’s clear he had eccentricities, and I was curious what one of his main ingenues had to say.
Well, clearly Hedren had a lot to say and has been for years. Hedren has not been quiet about her relationship with the famous director. I’ve read reports of his mental abuse and infatuation with her before and it’s been written in about in biographies about the man. She has reportedly said that he ruined her career but not her life, time and time again.
But seeing their relationship on film was jarring. It takes about a half-hour before “Hitch” lays his first move on her in the backseat of a car, and after that, the tension builds slowly yet brutally between the two. As a viewer, it’s clear that she’s being tormented and was quite repulsed by his affection. But as a model turned actress very grateful for being featured as the main star in two of his last masterpieces, The Birds and Marnie, she was both afraid to pull out of her contract while she was supporting a child of her own (who happened to be the real actress, Melanie Griffith – I can’t imagine it’s easy for her to watch the truth about her mom on screen now as an adult). Hedren knew these films were making her a star so she took his abuse during the three years it took to make these films. In one horrific sequence, the filmmaker declines to tell her that real birds, not fake ones, will be used in a scene in which she’ll be attacked repeatedly during the making of Birds. She is then forced to endure to five days of shooting with birds pounding down on her physically, take after take after take after take, leaving her injured and emotionally damaged. Hitchcock was forced to suspend production for a week to allow her to recover during which time I wondered if she’d go back to the set. She did.
Toby Jones is very believable as Hitch. He’s downright spooky. Hitchcock always wore a suit. He appeared very formal and respectable, despite the horrible things that came out of his mouth when he was one one on one with Hedren or his Assistant Director. Apparently, Jones underwent hours of makeup and prosthetics during each day of shooting to secure the right look of Hitchcock, a look that had to be hard to replicate. Hitchcock knew he was very unattractive yet he clearly lived within his own imagination and truly believed he and Hedred would be a couple one day, despite his marriage for nearly 40 years. Imelda Staunton (who I have loved for years from performances in Shakespeare in Love, Peter’s Friends and many other UK films) plays his wife, Alma, who is downright creepy, too. It is her who first discovers Hedren on TV, and I fell under the impression that she also fancied the actress for a good part of this film. It almost seems like she condones Hitchcock’s affections for Hedren, but eventually we see her pain as he slips away into a very disturbing place and his obsession becomes very visible. Sienna Miller, who I admittedly knew of little before seeing the film, except for her relationship with Jude Law, does her best in her role and I thought her controlled look of shock about Hitchcock’s inappropriate morbidity even during the filming of the movies was priceless. He watches her every move, on and off the set, makes phone calls to her home on holidays and begins to infiltrate her every moment.
The film is quite dedicated to Hitchcock cinematically – there are shots reminiscent of his films (like a shower scene in particular and one of Hitchcock’s dreams about his star is shot quite similarly to one of his own) and the way the film moves along is quite Hitchcockesque. Take a look at more about the making of the film:
The fact that I can’t get this film out of mind isn’t a bad thing on a Monday morning. I’m intrigued and kind of obsessed with classic films, so I’m grateful for any movie that explores the people who made some of the best films of our time. This isn’t a film that had to be made – it puts some of our film heroes in a negative light, but it sure made an interesting story.
Did you watch it?