The Girl (HBO, 2012): Review

TV Movie
HBO, 20 October 2012
BBC, Christmas 2012

Starring Toby Jones, Sienna Miller, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton
Directed by Julian Jarrold

For his film of Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds, acclaimed movie director Alfred Hitchcock selects unknown blonde model Tippi Hedren, hoping to make her into a star…

Toby Jones has made two movies this year about the behind-the-scenes world of moviemaking, but The Girl is very different from Berberian Sound Studio, although both delve into the dark side of cinema.

The first thing to note of this telling of the making of The Birds and Hitchcock’s obsession with Tippi Hedren (now 82), is the astonishing recreation of Alfred Hitchcock by the wildly underrated Toby Jones and his amazing make-up team. Jones faces competition from Anthony Hopkins in the forthcoming movie Hitchcock (about the making of Psycho, but not released in the US until February 2013), just as his version of Truman Capote in Infamous had Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote as a rival. Hopkins, however, on the basis of the photos released so far, has lost this fight. Jones uncannily incarnates Hitchcock not only through the bizarrely convincing prosthetic make-up, but also in his voice and mannerisms, including his peculiar stiff-legged gait. It is a totally convincing portrayal.

Alfred Hitchcock was perhaps the first movie director of modern times to become a celebrity in his own right, not just through the publicity for his movies and in the game he played with his audience through his cameo appearances, but also through his weekly introductions on American TV as the host of hundreds of episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. That means that Jones had a lot of material to draw upon, but also that viewers of his portrayal have a firm image of Hitchcock to compare him to. He comes up trumps in that comparison, from Hitchcock’s lewd limericks with which he tested the shockability of his colleagues, to his deadpan self-described lack of humour.

The script draws upon Donald Spoto’s Spellbound by Obsession, the book that revealed Tippi Hedren’s suffering at the hands of Hitchcock (and the beaks of the birds) during the making of the movie. Hitchcock’s sexual obsession with his iciest blonde is also now well-known, and captured perfectly here. Sienna Miller does an equally good job in her portrayal of a woman determined to stand up to ‘Hitch’ and so takes everything he can throw at her. The recreations of famous scenes from The Birds and Marnie are faultless.

Throughout there are subtle allusions to other Hitchcock films (a shower scene echoes specific shots from Psycho, a ‘dolly’ into Hitchcock’s back recalls the ‘hidden’ editing tricks of Rope, and a stuffed bird mounted on a log is also from Psycho), and musical cues recalling famous Hitchcock soundtracks. These little games make this TV movie even more enjoyable for those who know their Hitchcock inside out.

An almost entirely British lead cast—with Wilton and Staunton alongside Miller and Jones—more than do justice to this dark tale of Britain’s most successful movie director.

Verdict: A wonderful act of recreation by a faultless cast. 9/10

Brian J. Robb

The Girl can be seen in the UK as part of the BBC’s Christmas schedule.

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