It’s 1959 and, fascinated by the case of serial killer and necrophile Ed Gein
It’s 1959 and,
fascinated by the case of serial killer and necrophile Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), legendary director
Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins)
decides his next project will be an adaptation of the lurid horror novel Psycho, loosely inspired by Gein’s
crimes. The only problem is no one
in Hollywood will touch the project and Hitch is forced to re-mortgage his
house in order to finance the film himself.
As Hitch begins work on the film, his greatest collaborator
is his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren)
who advises him on every aspect of the movie, helping him whip the script into
shape and suggesting casting choices.
As production progresses and control freak Hitch becomes increasingly
enamored by his leading ladies Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), Alma loses patience with Hitch’s wandering eye and
obsessive nature. Flattered by the
attentions of ambitious, younger screenwriter Whit (Danny Huston), Alma agrees to help him adapt his book into a
screenplay. Convinced Alma is
having an affair and wracked with jealousy, Hitch finds fantasies of Gein
invading his reality as he creates his masterpiece.
Five decades after the release of Psycho, British director Sacha
Gervasi’s playful, mischievous comedy/drama Hitchcock charts the film’s troubled production, using it as a
framework to examine Hitch’s obsessive behaviour and the relationship between
him and his wife Alma. Since his
death in 1980 and the gossipy, mostly unfounded, revelations of Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock’s reputation as
a cinematic genius has been slightly tarnished; he’s been recast as a monster,
a misogynistic control freak, utterly obsessed with his blonde leading
ladies. Gervasi’s film doesn’t exactly redress this balance but his Hitch
is far more benign than that of the recent BBC/HBO movie The Girl; a lecherous but ultimately harmless voyeur rather than
the attempted rapist of Hedren’s accusations and Hopkins plays him more as a
naughty schoolboy than as the predatory oddball we’re so used to.
It’s a popular truism that behind every great man lies a
woman. Gervasi gives us two. Behind Hitch lies Alma, the wife who
gave him his break in the movie business and was his closest (often uncredited)
collaborator and source of strength for fifty years. But in the background, casting a shadow over the film and
haunting Hitch’s dreams, lurks Ed Gein and the mouldering corpse of his mother,
Gein’s homicidal Mama’s Boy acting as confidant and sly instigator.
A talented screenwriter in her own right, Alma’s career took
second place to that of her husband and in a low-key feminist redress,
Hitchcock is shown to not only be in the thrall of women but completely unable
to function without them. As much
as it is a behind-the-scenes telling of the making of perhaps his greatest
work, first and foremost, Hitchcock
is a portrait of a marriage.
Hitch’s life is marshalled by Alma, without her he is lost, and there’s
real pathos to the scenes where Hitch believes Alma is having an affair.
As Hitchcock, Hopkins is having real fun in a broad, comic
performance that’s more Silence Of The
Hams than Silence Of The Lambs,
equal parts Hannibal Lecter and belligerent child as the creative genius
riddled with insecurities, while Helen Mirren is poised and charming as
Alma. The two share an easy,
affectionate intimacy, utterly convincing as a couple weathering the late
storms of a marriage. The pair are
ably supported by a talented cast with Scarlett Johansson and James D’Arcy rendering passable
impersonations of Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins while Danny Huston is
on suitably oily, lupine form as Alma’s admirer.
In the film’s fantasy sequences Michael Wincott makes a fascinating, terrifying Gein, a pathetic
monster driven as much as Hitchcock by his loneliness and inadequacies, a dark
psychic shadow of the great man.
Most surprising however is Jessica Biel who, after an undistinguished
career of bland pretty girls finally gets the chance to show her mettle in the
relatively minor role of actress Vera Miles, a former object of Hitch’s twisted
affections, bitter, frustrated and wounded by Hitch’s treatment after she
“betrayed” him by choosing her own path.
It could be argued that if you want to know about Hitchcock,
you’d be better off watching his films but Hitchcock,
with its impish sense of humour and a wonderfully puckish performance by
Anthony Hopkins, is a light, breezy piece of entertainment that’s the perfect
antidote to the po-faced awards contenders currently cluttering up our