Film4: PREMIERE Wednesday 20 January, 9pm
Anthony Hopkins is Alfred Hitchcock, sweating over his contentious follow-up to his big 1959 hit, North By Northwest. Paramount doesn’t want to touch Psycho with a barge pole, so Hitch is forced to finance the film himself. Helen Mirren is his loyal but long-suffering wife, Alma Reville, the woman behind the great film-maker’s best instincts.
Even playing middle-aged and dowdy, the regal Ms Mirren is too glamorous and too tall for Alma, but with his unerring instinct for the essence of characterisation, Hopkins is a perfect fit for Hitch. His estuary speech is spot on, and so’s the posture. Even in repose, Hopkins capture’s the man’s bearing in a way that utterly eluded Toby Jones in the spiteful BBC biopic, The Girl.
Jones is a fine actor but Hitchcock’s bulk is simply beyond him. Even with prosthetics, Jones came nowhere near Hitchcock’s demeanour. He looked and acted more like Tolkien’s Gollum. Made with a far more generous spirit than The Girl, Hitchcock sets a playful tone straight off by having Hopkins talk to camera in the manner of the director’s deadpan introductions to his 1950s TV show.
It’s a clever touch, and relevant too, because Paramount’s queasiness over Psycho forced the film-maker to adopt the economic style of shooting with his TV crew while embarking on a new direction: “What if someone really good made a horror picture?” There’s no false modesty about this Hitchcock, although he has the doubts and insecurities of any great artist. Typically scornful of psychiatrists (although fascinated by psychiatry, as Spellbound proved), Hitch shares imagined ‘therapy’ sessions with Ed Gein, the notorious real-life inspiration for Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Hitch, of course, put his dark impulses into his films, not his life. It’s another witty touch in an handsomely designed film that closes on a sublime moment of epiphany – Hitch dancing a jig of joyful realisation as Bernard Herrmann’s score gives the preview audience the screaming jitters. It might not be true but – like the rest of the picture – it’s truthful to the spirit and English schoolboy humour of the man who called himself ‘Hitch – hold the cock’.
British film-maker Sacha Gervasi, who directed the documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil, also wrote the script for Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film The Terminal. Working here from a screenplay by Black Swan scriptwriter John McLaughlin, Gervasi certainly better understands Alfred Hitchcock than the many critics who failed to grasp this picture’s sense of fun. Unlike Julian Jarrold’s dismal 2012 TV movie The Girl, this is a worthy companion piece to Johan Grimonprez’s outstanding Hitchcock speculation, Double Take. Hitch might have enjoyed the joie de vivre. It’s only a movie. The Girl was only gossip. Psycho follows on Film4 at 10.55pm. Hitchcock mischievously claimed it was a comedy.