Diff film review: Hitchcock

Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins turn in a masterclass in subtlety

By Sarah Harvey, Copy Editor
12:24 December 13, 2012

British acting royalty Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins must have jumped at the chance to take centre stage in this film, directed by Sacha Gervasi, which plays homage to ‘poet of the screen’ Alfred Hitchock (Hopkins) one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, and his relationship with wife, Alma Reville (Mirren). The year is 1959 and Hitchcock, at the top of his game and enjoying rapturous success with his latest incarnation, North by Northwest, is at home, bored and spoiling for ideas for his next movie. He quickly becomes enamoured by the 1959 novel Psycho, by Robert Bloch, vaguely based on the crimes of Wisconsin murderer and grave robber, Ed Gein, who lived near to Bloch. Paramount Studios loathe the idea, so Hitchcock must finance the movie himself, using his own house as collateral to stump up the $800,000 budget. Instructing his staff to buy up every last copy of Bloch’s book to avoid revealing the ending to the public, we witness Hitch doing battle simultaneously with the studio over the production and the film classification board as he fights to get his film made with the help of his infamously pitch-perfect sharp wit and deadpan demeanour: ‘She won’t be naked, she’ll be wearing a shower cap’, he says in his endlessly droll style. While Hitch harbours a famous obsession with his female leads, Gervasi thankfully opts not to show old Hitch as merely a lurid voyeur (who has a morbid habit of peering through a hole in the wall from his office to spy on leading lady Janet Leigh’s dressing room). Instead Gervasi raises the tone to examine the dynamic of his enduring relationship with Alma, who famously referred to herself as Hitch’s ‘one-time boss’. (Reville was working as a film editor while Hitch was a lowly design advertising employee when they first met) and the daily juggling of her roles as script editor, housewife, friend, collaborator – and wet nurse. Hitch’s penchant for bullying and berating his stars in the quest for the perfect take is only touched upon, as is the deeper issues of mistrust of women, but no matter; Mirren and Hopkins turn in a masterclass in subtlety, and Hopkins heaves and frowns his way through the prosthetics to give a poignant performance of the film-directing genius. But ultimately, it is Reville who comes out of the shadows to be revealed as the ultimate sounding board and pivotal figure in the shaping of Hitchcock’s films. A wonderfully paired-down portrayal of the ultimate power couple.