Sunday, January 6, 2013

"The Girl" vs. "Hitchcock": a comparative review

Let me start by saying that I could get all the way through HBO's The Girl.  Chock full of famous and well regarded actors, the miniseries chooses to focus on the plight of Miss Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds and Marnie.  Miss Hedren contends that during her time with Hitchcock she was repeatedly sexually harassed and forced to endure the retaliation of an incensed "Hitch" when she spurned his sexual advances.  While I will be the first to agree that society tends to vilify the individual who brings the allegations to light (which is, it's said, the reason many cases of harassment go unreported), the portrayal of both Hedren and Hitchcock in this film smacks of dis-ingenuousness.  The trouble comes in the two-dimensional representation of both characters.  Hitch as a lecherous sexual predator who thinks of nothing else and can barely concentrate on the film he's completing, while Hedren is a set upon delicate woman who's only wish is to be with her daughter and who is repeatedly kept late on set against her will.  I will not say that I think Hedren has made it all up because I find it very unlikely that she did (I'm sure she felt harassed and I imagine he took a less than healthy interest) but what I WILL say is that the truth is very likely somewhat less sensational then it is portrayed in this film.

Hitchcock on the other hand paints a much more three dimensional portrait of the famed director but only slightly.  Anthony Hopkins is certainly a gifted mimick and he and Mirren are quite good together but the script as written provides very little additional background on the man behind the silhouette as it were.  While the film does delve in passing into the, "fantasy love affairs with [his] leading ladies," it does not suggest that there's anything more than one-sided flirtation occurring.  That perhaps Hitchcock takes a little too much interest in the appearance of his stars.  The fact that it is mentioned at all suggests that Hitchcock's need for control at least informed the way that he made his movies but also brings us to the most important leading lady and the portrayal that I have the most to say about in both movies: Alma.

Alma Reville (or 'Lady Hitchcock' as she later became known following his knighthood) was an editor and later screenwriter who is certainly most well known for her involvement in her husband's work.  It is said that Hitchcock largely saw Alma's final word as the most important when creating any of his films and this is brought to light in both adaptations.  Where they differ is in their portrayal of Alma's agency (or lack thereof) when it came to her husband's involvements with his leading ladies.  While Hitchcock's representation (Mirren's portrayal) is that of a talented woman whose marriage has perhaps seen better days, The Girl presents Alma (played here by Imelda Staunton) virtually as a battered wife, unable to lift a finger against her husband as he blatantly and violently pursues a frightened Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller).  Frankly it's insulting and it certainly doesn't serve the story or the actors in any way.  I myself much prefer the portrayal of Alma as having at least some agency within her marriage and within the working relationship she has with her husband.

The posters themselves present the treatment of the main characters quite explicitly with Toby Jones' Hitchcock standing petulantly in the background of The Girl poster, while Miller's Hedren plays the triumphant hero in the foreground.  Hitchcock on the other hand, shows the support characters as secondary to the main story, that of Alfie and Alma, struggling for control in their partnership and in their marriage. While I would say categorically that neither film is a triumph, I think of the two Hitchcock is certainly more successful (even with the odd inclusion of those scenes with Ed Gein).  With its more colourful characters (which incidentally the poster also demonstrates)  Hitchcock far outclasses its flat and sensationalist competition.

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