Golden Age on the Silver Screen returns and not a moment too soon it seems. As the year progresses there’s a veritable slew of made-for-television biopics (and just biopics in general) that will make good installments in this series. The first is the highly advertised HBO film The Girl. A film I’m sure made to capitalize on the recent interest in Hitchcock (alongside the film Hitchcock which showcases the making-of Psycho due out soon), and supposedly meant to tell the true story of Hitchcock’s relationship with Birds star Tippi Hedren. I’ll comment on the authenticity of the story later, but as a stand-alone film The Girl is a bore. At a lean hour and a half the film rushes too quickly over things and provides zero context on Hitchcock’s relationship with his other blondes; which all tied into his relationship with Hedren. The acting, particularly from Toby Jones as Hitchcock, is serviceable, but sadly star Sienna Miller never transcends the role to be anything more than Sienna Miller. It’s quick enough that you won’t be clawing your eyes out waiting for the end, but considering the talent, marketing, and directing it should have been far better.
Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) is set to make his next film, The Birds. His wife Alma (Imelda Staunton) notices a beautiful model in a commercial, and believes she’d be perfect as the next cool blonde in Hitchcock’s film. The girl of the title is Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller), a model whose never done serious acting before. Under the lure of working with Hitch, Hedren believes she’s finally made it. Things turn ugly once Hitchcock starts sexually harassing her; escalating his attacks on her personally and professionally.
A little history lesson before we start. It’s been documented in various books, and interviews with Hedren herself, that Hitchcock did sexually harass her during the making of The Birds, and escalating when they made Marnie. With that being said, it’s also been written that Hitchcock was sexually vulgar with several of his female co-stars in the form of suggestive jokes and excessive profanity. What made Hedren different was the level of intensity to his actions. At one point she claims he attacked her in a car, and openly told her she would sleep with him if she wanted to keep her career. According to Hedren this, along with her seven-year contract she signed with Hitchcock, blackballed her from Hollywood for several years. Hedren doesn’t completely condemn Hitchcock though. In fact it’s been said that at various festivals she has mentioned that there were good times working alongside Hitchcock. Unfortunately, the film is too one-sided to present both elements of their working relationship. There are of course people who have done nothing but attack this film as trash possessing no proof (there are allegations only), and who cite that Hitchcock was practically a god. If you’re of the group that thinks the great director can do no evil than no matter what I say about this film will change your mind. I appreciate Hitchcock as a director, but after reading about his views and relationships with women, I can easily see something of this nature happening. Keep in mind this was a time well before sexual harassment laws were created, and there’s several documentaries and stories about the horrors young actresses went through with no one believing them.
With all that, director Julian Jarrold completely ignores the need for context within The Girl. A main factor for Hitchcock’s growing aggression had to do with the loss of several of his favored leading ladies. Hitch gives a one-line mention that Grace Kelly won’t be doing Marnie and gives the role to Tippi. According to biographers this was a tipping point for Hitchcock as Kelly dropped out to marry Prince Rainier, a marriage that Hitch apparently never got over. The film also ignores mentioning how Hitch tried to control Ingrid Bergman in a similar manner to Hedren. Bergman was also made over like Hedren, and mentioned feeling controlled and lacking identity in his presence. In one scene Alma asks why Hedren is so special? Well, if we had all the back story it would be answered with ease; and really, with the short runtime they could easily include background information like this. The film does mention how Hitchcock doesn’t like actresses getting pregnant. To fans this is in reference to Vera Miles but it will sail over everyone else’s head. Why this was included as an inside joke, eschewing all the other context, is beyond me.
Really The Girl should be retitled “Hitchcock the Evil Overlord” because that’s how the film presents him. Again, I can believe that these things happened, but the film is far too content to present in stark shades of black and white. The opening text within the first minute best exemplifies the Hitchcock you’re going to watch: “Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.” Jones himself makes a better Hitch then Anthony Hopkins, in my opinion, and he’s never overbearing in the role. He plays Hitchcock quietly, calculating his next move. Towards the end the rejection he feels from Tippy takes a psychological toll on him as he starts to question how much of her repulsion is based on his appearance (something Hitchcock was concerned about later in life). Jones truly seeks to inhabit the famed director; a prime example is through his usage of vulgar limericks. When Hitchcock gets to the punch lines it’s not shocking for the words themselves, but to hear such an acclaimed director (not Jones the actor) spout those words. I think that’s what elevates him leaps and bounds above Miller.
I did find it disheartening to see Imelda Staunton wasted as Alma, Hitchcock’s wife. They’re a formidable team when Hedren is being courted for the role of Melanie Daniels. It’s obvious Hitch relies on Alma a great deal, and yet after she fades into the background. There’s virtually no connection established until Alma leaves Hitchcock, and even then he mentions how he can’t live without her and that’s it. The only time we see Alma away from Hitch is when Hedren confronts her, and begs her to talk to Hitchcock about stopping her torment. Alma simply walks away, leaving the audience with an image of a woman who was just as bad, and content to ignore the abuse of a poor woman. I think if anything the film is a true disservice to Alma Hitchcock.
That leaves us with Miller as Tippi Hedren. Miller is a beautiful girl but she just seems to be playing an everyday starlet. There’s nothing that would make me say “Oh she’s playing Hedren.” I always felt like she was Sienna Miller playing a Hollywood actress. Maybe that’s because Hedren doesn’t have the iconic face of a Hepburn or someone but it never felt like Miller dug deep for her portrayal. You definitely come to understand the high stakes Hedren was up against, and why she appreciated the role so much. She’s divorced, raising a daughter, and has received the most coveted role in Hollywood at the time. When she first goes to meet Hitch she looks at the various pictures of Hitch’s superstar actresses; the camera stopping to linger on Grace Kelly. She does recreate the scenes from The Birds, especially the infamous attic scene, but again it just felt like Sienna Miller recreates The Birds. I’m not quite sure what she could have done to be better, I just think it’s poor casting. The film does mention how Hitchcock tried to dominate her time, taking it away from her child, but the film never goes too deep into that. The film also explains Hedren’s stilted acting in The Birds (which is the one thing that lessens my enjoyment of it), as Hitchcock wanted her to do nothing, and allow the audience to figure things out.
The Girl just tries too hard to turn Hitchcock into a villain with little rhyme or reason. The film rushes past things so quickly you never have time to process Hitchcock’s reasons; content to say he’s just a pig. I mean the film has him openly assaulting Hedren within the first few days of filming, in a car. The director could have easily expanded this into a two-hour film, and explored the back story of events. Instead The Girl is another sensationalized attempt at a story that really should open people’s eyes to how even the most beloved directors were far from perfect. It’s on several times on HBO so if you watch it you won’t be completely wasting time, but it’s all misfires.