BARRY NORMAN:FILM OF THE DAY Hitchcock★★ Premiere9.00-10.55pm Film4
This is not in any way a biography of the film director but more of a love story, the love between Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife and collaborator Alma (Helen Mirren). It’s a tale whose appeal owes much to the performances of the two stars and which centres on the making of the director’s most successful film, Psycho.In 1959, goaded by an idiot journalist’s remark that it was time he retired (and this after he’d just released the terrific North by Northwest), Hitchcock turned down safe options like an adaptation of Casino Royale and instead embarked on something riskier, the filming of Psycho (showing later tonight). This was based on a novel inspired by the murders committed by one Ed Gein. It was certainly a thriller – Hitchcock’s metier – but it also contained elements of horror, which was not his style, and nobody wanted Hitch to make it, least of all Alma. In any event she was busy at the time trying to get her husband interested in a script by their friend Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). But undeterred by opposition, even when Paramount refused to back the film, Hitchcock took the usually disastrous decision to fund it himself. To do so he mortgaged his house – which narked Alma even more – and to keep costs as low as possible used the comparatively inexpensive camera crew from his TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. So filming began in a fairly acrimonious atmosphere chez Hitchcock. Things improved when Alma began to warm to the Psycho project but she was still seeing a lot of Whitfield Cook, causing Hitch to suspect they were having an affair. Meanwhile he was revealing his lecherous side in his behaviour towards Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel). Not altogether a happy household then. But all’s well that ends well and, of course, Psycho was a resounding hit. Hitchcock is not exactly hagiography but neither is it particularly critical of its subject. It lacks the nail-biting tension that was Hitch’s stock in trade, though it’s hard to see how you could get much of that into what is essentially a domestic drama. The story concentrates on the director’s artistic side, his stubborn determination and dedication to his craft, along with his relationship with Alma, who was vital to him both as wife and working partner. The scenes between them, the quarrelsome and the warm alike, are particularly well played but what else would you expect from Hopkins and Mirren? Basically, what we have here is the good Hitchcock. For the more disagreeable Hitch, the one whose behaviour, professional and sexual, towards Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) while making The Birds and Marnie was so disgraceful, you should watch The Girl, in which Hitchcock is played by Toby Jones.
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