The Girl


TV film charting Alfred Hitchcock's relationship with leading lady Tippi Hedren

Poor Toby Jones. Every time he gets a plum part, something comes along to overshadow it.

First there was Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter films, a computer-generated homunculus forever destined to be Gollum’s poor relation.

His Truman Capote turn in Infamous was accomplished but struggled for attention in the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-grabbing interpretation.

And now it happens again, his performance as Alfred Hitchcock in this BBC/HBO co-production having the misfortune to arrive just as an Anthony Hopkins-led biopic hits the big screen.

You could say the same of Sienna Miller, a star whose private life always seems to lure attention away from her achievements as an actress.

In that respect the pair are ideally matched in Julian Jarrold’s film, a behind-the-scenes melodrama that explores the complex relationship Hitch had with Tippi Hedren over the course of making what were arguably the former’s last two decent movies.

The first, of course, was 1963’s The Birds, a masterpiece of unsettling avian horror that catapulted former model Tippi to international stardom.

According to Gwyneth Hughes’ screenplay, however (based on Donald Spoto’s 2008 tome Spellbound By Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock And His Leading Ladies) her success did not come easily, Hitch responding to an early rebuff of his advances by making the shoot as physically arduous and psychologically tortuous as possible.

Tensions reached their apogee during the filming of the attic scene, a gruelling ordeal that saw Hedren fending off real birds for seven exhausting days.

This is recreated effectively and harrowingly in Jarrold’s drama, as is another unpleasant moment when Hitch sends a fake crow smashing into Hedren’s phone box set with no prior warning.

The way Hughes tells it, it’s a wonder she made it out alive.

But what’s really astounding is that she chose to go through it all again by shooting another picture with Hitchcock straight afterwards – a mystery left unanswered in a film whose portrait of the director as a creepy, lascivious ogre amounts to nothing less than a wholesale character assassination.

The Marnie section is the weaker here, Jarrold spurning the opportunity to give Sean Connery a role in what, Imelda Staunton’s cameo as Alfred’s wife notwithstanding, is pretty much a two-hander.

It’s good then that the leads click so well together, a subtly prostheticised Jones proving memorably reptilian and a predictably glamorous Miller nailing both Hedren’s glacial exterior and the terrified naïf within.

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