THE GIRL (2012) – BBC/HBO FILMS – ★★★1/2
Color – 91 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Featuring: Toby Jones (Alfred Hitchcock), Sienna Miller (Tippi Hedren), Imelda Staunton (Alma Reville), Penelope Wilton (Peggy Robertson).
Written by Gwyneth Hughes
Most fans of Alfred Hitchcock are aware of his obsession with his leading ladies. He would cast them, mold them into his desired image, and charm them on the set and off, often engaging in playful banter. This HBO film from a few years ago suggests that in the case of at least one actress Hitchcock crossed a line; that his banter became overt harassment.
The Girl deals with the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, who starred in The Birds and Marnie for Hitchcock. Anyone who has read Tippi’s engaging autobiography of 2017 will recognize most of the incidents that make up the bulk of this film.
The film begins with Hitchcock reveling in the success of Psycho, and planning his next feature film. He chooses The Birds, based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, and hires Evan Hunter to write the screenplay. Hitchcock and his wife Alma are taken with an attractive young woman in a TV commercial, and Hitchcock brings her in for an interview. This young woman is Tippi Hedren, who has years of successful modeling behind her, but zero acting experience. Hitchcock gives her a screen test, and then signs her to an exclusive contract.
The director/actress relationship begins promisingly enough; Hitchcock runs lines with Tippi, giving her acting lessons in the process. Sienna Miller is very good in the title role as Tippi Hedren; in the beginning we share her excitement and eagerness to do well. Later, as things become more difficult, we feel deeply for her. Toby Jones is a wonder as Hitchcock. He completely loses himself in the part, and plays Hitchcock with real depth, and never crosses the line into caricature. Imelda Staunton is equally good as Hitchcock’s wife and collaborator Alma Reville.
Hitchcock is portrayed as having moments of jealousy, as well as petulant outbursts. He also attempts to kiss and grope his leading lady on at least two occasions. These scenes are difficult to watch, as they should be. There is also an implication that Hitchcock exacted revenge on Tippi Hedren for refusing his advances by making the shooting of the film more challenging. It is well known that Tippi Hedren spent a week shooting the penultimate attic scene in The Birds, having live birds thrown at her over and over again. This film suggests that Hitchcock physically and emotionally traumatized her on purpose.
I’m not going to address the veracity of the movie’s claims in depth. Regarding the sexual harassment, it is a shame that Hitchcock is no longer alive to address the accusations. At the same time, I absolutely believe Tippi; she has no reason to manufacture such claims at this point in her life. Some of the other episodes in the film however, the suggestions that Hitchcock made the shooting more difficult on purpose, I find hard to swallow. Tippi herself has said that the movie over-dramatizes some elements. She says if it was really that bad all the time she would have left much sooner.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film for a Hitchcock fan is the recreation of several scenes from The Birds being shot by Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren. The attention to detail by director Julian Jarrold and his technical team is impressive.
Ultimately, this is the tale of a young woman whose Hollywood story had a fairy tale beginning that turned dark quickly, and her ability to overcome the obstacles in her path. It is an entertaining film, despite stretching the truth in places.
The Girl is currently available to purchase on DVD and is available to stream on HBO streaming platforms.