Troubled by a journalist’s insinuation that he might be past his best, revered filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins) searches for a new project. Deciding to adapt an explicit novel called Psycho, he’s forced to self-finance the picture when the studio aren’t sold, effectively gambling the financial security he shares with wife and indispensable creative partner Alma Reville (Mirren). With the pressure on, Hitchcock realises that Alma has grown tired of being taken for granted…
As anyone who’s interested in movies will tell you, Alfred Hitchcock is probably the most famous filmmaker in the medium’s history. After all, what other director has their own theme tune and signature silhouette? As the latest attempt to deconstruct the Master Of Suspense, Sacha Gervasi’s dramatised biopic aims to tell the “untold story” between Hitch and his wife (IE, that she made him what he was), but it also functions as Alfred Hitchcock For Beginners. Hitchcock 101, if you will. Covering the basics (he had a thing for blondes, could be difficult to work for, was a bit of a peeping tom), Hitchcock is more slight and glossy than it is penetrating or definitive. But yet, while largely surface-level stuff, the subject matter is interesting enough that it’s quite watchable.
While recent bio-drama The Girl (which starred Toby Jones) focused on his obsession with leading lady Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds and Marnie, here the focus is Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife during the production of preceding picture Psycho. Where that made-for-TV effort painted the iconic auteur as petty, lecherous monster whose only redeeming quality was his talent, here he’s depicted as a fallible genius in the midst of a midlife crisis. Again, the most fascinating sequences are those which recreate the filming of famous scenes. Dramatic liberties were taken, of course. How could anyone know what Hitch and his wife spoke about in their bedroom? But given that it’s based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and The Making Of Psycho, fans might find it curious to see the struggle Hitch faced to make what is now regarded as one of his most popular and acclaimed works.
The film does misstep with dark, dream-like sequences which see Hitchcock converse with real-life Psycho inspiration killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), which rubs up against the frothy, occasionally comic tone. As the inimitable director, Anthony Hopkins does a decent impersonation despite some distracting latex, but we’re always aware that we’re watching Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, and never just Hitchcock. Likewise Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles respectively. James d’Arcy is an eerie fit for Anthony Perkins, but like Toni Collete as Hitch’s secretary he’s largely wasted. Arguably, the film belongs to the toast-crunching Helen Mirren as Hitch’s wife, even though A) she’s essentially playing Helen Mirren, and B) she’s too attractive to play a frumpy woman who’s constantly being ignored.
Hitchcock aims to tell the “untold story”, but also functions as Alfred Hitchcock For Beginners. It’s more slight and glossy than penetrating or definitive, but the subject matter is interesting enough.