Hitchcock (2012)

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren. Scarlett Johansson, Toni Colette, Danny Huston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, Jessica Biel

Directed by: Sacha Gervasi

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Anthony Hitchcock as Alfred Hitchcock

I don't know: you wait years for a film about Alfred Hitchcock, then two come along at once.

BBC2's The Girl was a masterly portrayal of actress Tippi Hedren's abuse at the hands of the famous director while filming The Birds, and was every bit as creepy, disturbing and psychologically warped as anything the Master of Suspense himself could dream up. Toby Jones didn't just inhabit Hitchcock's fat suit, but got right inside his skin, creating not merely a skilful impression of the much caricatured, corpulent figure, but a complex, controlling, often frightening character.

Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh in Hitchcock

By contrast, Anthony Hopkins' Hitchcock, while no less real, is much more of a lovable buffoon, a reluctant dieting gourmand scowling at a plate of celery and raw carrot then devouring foie gras by the light of the midnight fridge, indulging in harmless fantasies about his blonde leading ladies but never allowing his avuncular pervy tendencies to get out of hand. Hints are dropped at a darker, crueller, more manipulative Hitch, but on the whole, Scarlett Johansson's pouting Janet Leigh gets off far lighter than Sienna Miller's Tippi.

Taking place four years before The Girl, Hitchcock relives the creation of the director's most (in)famous work, Psycho. Based on the shocking, pot-boiling novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, which was itself based on the true story of prolific serial killer Ed Gein (also the grisly inspiration behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface and Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill, fact fans) the concept did not go down well with the Hollywood money men. Undeterred, the stubborn director – so obsessed with the story that Gein (played by Michael Wincott – who else?) starts appearing to him like Elvis in True Romance – mortgages his lavish home in order to finance the film himself.

Helen Mirren as Alma and Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock

None of this, of course, would be possible without the support of his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). Because where both The Girl and Hitchcock agree is that the real power behind Hitchcock's throne lay with Alma, and that, without the creative input and movie-making expertise of this fiercely intelligent, intensely loyal yet determinedly unsentimental woman, the arrogant director comes curiously adrift.

If you haven't seen The Girl yet, I suggest you see Hitchcock first, because I found it did indelibly colour the way I viewed the latter film. A thoroughly engaging, entertaining period piece and feelgood later life love story, seen through the dark glass of the BBC's nastier vision, it's like watching Ed Wood while believing the world's worst director was also a serial killer.

Hitchcock is much more fun than The Girl, but it's also far less gripping and emotionally complex. Which is why, while Hitchcock gets three and a half stars, The Girl gets four.

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