Between this and Julian Jarrold’s recent BBC/HBO telemovie The Girl, it currently seems to be open season on Hitch the Letch.
Anthony Hopkins’ rendition of the Master of Suspense isn’t quite so creepily predatory as Toby Jones’ portrayal: Hopkins mostly confines himself to regaling Scarlett Johansson’s Janet Leigh with off-colour jokes (“Call me Hitch. Hold the cock”) and drilling a hole in Vera Miles’ (Jessica Biel) dressing-room wall to watch her undress.
But then Sacha Gervasi’s (Anvil: The Story Of Anvil) film is less about Hitch’s dodgy sexual predilections than about his relationship with Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), his wife, collaborator and uncredited script editor.
It’s also about his battle to shoot Psycho, the game-changing flick that invented the slasher.
When his plan to adapt Robert Bloch’s novel as his next film after the acclaimed North By Northwest hits a brick wall of distaste at Paramount, Hitch decides to put up the money himself, mortgaging his house to do so.
Partly because of this, partly because she’s teetering on the brink of an affair with a younger screenwriter (Danny Huston), Alma is less supportive than usual, leaving Hitch bereft.
True, there are some tonal swerves, from social comedy to psychological drama, and there’s the intrusive device of having Hitch periodically visited by the spirit of Ed Gein (the Wisconsin killer who inspired Bloch’s novel).
But the making and marketing of Psycho are entertainingly recounted, with polished playing from the starry cast.
Hopkins gives a decent impersonation of the portly director, with just the occasional hint of Hannibal Lecter.
Mirren feels oddly cast as the “small, birdlike” (as the Prime Suspect star puts it) Alma, but she’s commandingly watchable as ever.
However, it’s the actors-as-actors who get the best of it: Johansson as the amenable Leigh, Biel as the more sceptical, once-bitten Miles, and James D’Arcy, twitchily spot-on as Tony Perkins.
A breezy, lightweight account of the making of a classic. Some of the casting may be questionable, but in the end it’s the “cattle” who carry it.