Hitchcock: artistic genius or vindictive director? According to both movies, a little of both. Both of these films are also based on books and research about their specific time periods in Hitchcock’s career. Both examine his relationships, working and personal. Both boast strong talent and entertaining writing and directing. But while both are high quality productions, The Girl was made for TV and was produced in the UK while Hitchcock is a product of Hollywood. This is where the real differences show, specifically in terms of the honesty and feeling.
Knowing they covered similar subjects and had garnered a lot of attention (both nominated for and winning awards) I purposefully watched these films back-to-back. Unintentionally, though, I viewed them in reverse chronological order: Hitchcock covers the period of the making of Psycho, while The Girl starts with The Birds, his next film, and goes through Marnie.
Both films are worth seeing, and seeing together like this, but they each bring some different aspects to the fore. Because it was just natural to start comparing in my own head, I’ve decided to approach this discussion by running down the comparisons.
Toby Jones vs. Anthony Hopkins. Both men disappear into Hitch, though neither quite attains his physical size, each captures his essence, movement, and speech patterns. I expected this from Hopkins, but I have to admit Jones surprised the heck out of me with his ability. Jones is so often the weird or evil side-kick or comic relief. In this he really gets to act. Both performances focus on the same kinds of things: their artistic pursuits and control of course, but Jones’ main obsession is his blondes while Hopkins was food. Each presents a hole in their character around their confidence and their relationship with Alma, Hitch’s wife and production partner.
Imelda Staunton vs Helen Mirren. Each of these women play a solid Alma. Each clearly has an inner strength and the ear of Hitch. Each has a strained relationship that stems from Hitch’s own flaws and yet each clearly loves the man they are with. Staunton, for all her strength, is more beaten down by her life, while Mirren portrays a stronger, more directly combative and demanding partner. Again, both performances are wonderful, as you’d expect. You can almost see how Mirren’s Alma becomes Staunton’s given the situations that continue. The differences here stem primarily from the differences in approach, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Sienna Miller vs Scarlett Johansson & Jessica Biel. Playing famous people is tough enough, but these women had to take on beautiful Hollywood legends and match their charisma while making them real. Much like in Williams in My Week With Marilyn, it must have been daunting. Miller’s Tippi Hendren is a much more fully realized woman than either Johansson’s Leigh or Biel’s Miles, but that is partially a difference in focus of the stories. The Girl is about Hendren while Hitchcock is about, well, Hitch. Each of the performances is solid. The slight (and sometimes large) trepidation each of them allows to come through in dealing with their respective Hitchcock’s speaks volumes about the man, the times, and society.
Hollywood vs the UK. This is where you see a real divergence in the stories and portrayal of the man who changed cinema irrevocably with his ideas and vision. The Girl takes on the man with all his warts, acknowledging his genius while showing his darker side in his well documented near-torture of Hendren on the set of The Birds, and apparently in life. The Hollywood Hitchcock is polished, brightening up the relationships and energy between Hitchcock and Alma as well as buttoning it up in a very Hollywood ending. The Girl has an equally strong, but very different ending and final commentary to make. Though both claim extensive research, I have no idea which movie is more accurate as to Hitch’s real character (light or dark) but I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle, and more likely closer to The Girl. I don’t think Hollywood could bring itself to tarnish one of its greats too much and so backed off a little. And The Girl was very much from the point of view of a new actress dealing with a legend in difficult situations… and she still went on to work with him again. Most of our geniuses are flawed. They are driven to create perfection and, when they succeed, we put them on pedestals and give them power, which they tend to use. It doesn’t excuse the person, but it also doesn’t typically diminish the creation.
I recommend both films. I recommend them together–they’re only slight longer together than any one of the Lord of the Rings films or The Hobbit, so quit your complaining. Watch them in chronological order: Hitchcock and then The Girl for the most interesting effect. There isn’t a weak performance in the lot, the background on these seminal films and characters is compelling and fascinating, even if you knew most of it. Hitchcock changed the world of film, probably even more the Welles… Welles created new styles of camera work and production, but Hitchcock changed the industry in both subject matter and business model. I have to say, I had a fun and enlightening evening with the two films and gained new respect for every one of the performers.