The Girl: Toby Jones and Imelda Staunton shine in this overlong account of Hitchcock’s dangerous relationship with Tippi Hedren

by Matt D

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In my review of tonight’s ITV drama Doors Open I stated how a lot of people want to watch an uncomplicated piece of television on Boxing Day as they work off their turkey hangovers. This isn’t always the case though as some people want to escape from all the festive cheer and watch something a little different and that is provided by The Girl. The drama focuses on Alfred Hitchcock’s relationship with actress Tippi Heddren and is a co-production between the BBC and American cable network HBO where it already aired earlier in the year.

The Girl starts with Hitchcock looking for a star for his latest film The Birds which will be his first release since the critically acclaimed Psycho. Obviously Hitch is famed for his love of casting blondes however when he meets single mum and former model Hedren he is wowed by her wanting her to come in for another screen test. Instead of getting her to read the lines he has her kiss another member of his staff and later offers her the lead role of Melanie Daniels in The Birds. Hitch’s wife Alma is equally as taken with Hedren and sees the beauty in her green eyes and even though she is aware that her husband is somewhat taken with her she realises it’s the best thing for his film if Tippi take the lead role. As production roles on it is clear that using real birds won’t work, as Tippi is attacked on the first day of filming, so instead he has his team create a number of mechanical birds to create the same effect. Meanwhile Hitch and Tippi spend more time together though when she snubs him to spend more time with her daughter he is able to get revenge by playing around with the film. In the famous scene in which Melanie is trapped in the attic with the birds it is claimed by the director that mechanical birds cannot be used so instead he once again brings out the real birds which obviously attack her over and over again during this five day shoot. As Tippi is visibly traumatised after filming this scene it seems that shooting on The Birds will have to be postponed however the actress recovers and returns to the studios accompanied by a large bird. After this Hitchcock is completely won over by her and after The Birds is released Heddren is hailed as the newest movie star on the block while Hitch is delighted that he’s signed her to a seven year contract.

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After Grace Kelly pulls out of playing the lead in Marnie it is Hedren that Hitch turns to once again however this time the role is a little bit more sexually explicit as Marnie won’t let men touch her due to a traumatic incident in her past. As Hitch’s obsession grows Alma questions her husband’s secretary Peggy over the relationship between the two and the latter believes the director is drawn to Tippi due to her ability to take anything he throws at her. Hitch later confides in his cinematographer that he would throw everything away if Tippi would agree to be with him constantly and later Alma leaves him when she realises the extent of his infatuation. Eventually Hitch propositions Tippi straight up claiming that all of the attention she is receiving is because of him however she rejects him and attempts to wrangle out of the original contract that she signed. Tippi believes that if she changes her hair colour, as she has to do for the final scenes of Marnie, then Hitch won’t be attracted to her any more however the change does her more harm as she doesn’t feel like herself. The Girl finishes with the final take on Marnie and later tells us that the film was both Hitchcock’s last masterpiece and the end of Hedren’s career as a big movie star.

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As a massive fan of Hitchcock’s films and with a smattering of knowledge of the relationship between he and Hedren I was greatly anticipating The Girl however I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit disappointed as I found the scripting a little bit heavy-handed. Writer Gwyneth Hughes, who created the BBC drama Seven Days, makes sure we know how big Hitch’s obsession with Tippi is by having him leer over her every other scene and elsewhere make several inappropriate gestures. I also didn’t like the fact that Hitchcock was constantly reciting dirty limericks while he may well have done this it still seemed a little as if Hughes wanted to put over the sexually explicit nature of Hitch’s character in the easiest way she could. I have to say that I didn’t really buy Sienna Miller as Hedren as I don’t feel she ever put accross the full complexity of the character who was someone that was both living life as a Hollywood star but at the same time felt incredibly trapped by the man who had given her her big break. While it does seem as if Miller is trying her best to capture all of Hedren’s traits overall I felt her performance lacked a certain something when compared to the rest of the cast.

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I do feel part of the problem is that Miller is on screen opposite Toby Jones who is one of this country’s most underrated actors and was the only saving grace in ITV1’s Titanic fiasco earlier in the year. Jones easily portrays some of Hitchcock’s mannerisms but I never felt like I was watching somebody giving an impression of the director as Jones is able to bring his own interpretation to the character. Jones’ performance suggests that Hitch wasn’t just obsessed by Hedren but by attractive people in general as at one point in the film he almost makes a move on his male cinematographer. I also thought his relationship with Imelda Staunton’s Alma was very believable and the scenes between the pair were for me the drama’s best especially the one in which she returns to him while he’s watching Tippi on screen in his private screening room. Penelope Wilton was another good casting choice and as Hitch’s secretary Peggy she provides a shoulder to cry on for the majority of the other characters.

The Girl then is definitely something a bit different to the normal Boxing Day fare and despite some clunky dialogue and a patchy performance from Miller there is still a lot to like. Jones, Staunton and Wilton all give great performances while I think film fans will enjoy seeing this slice of movie history even if not all of the scenes ring true. While at times I felt The Girl dragged overall I have to say I enjoyed it and if you’re sick of all the festive cheer and unchallenging dramas then this might be something you’d enjoy.

Did you watch The Girl? If so what did you think? Leave Your Comments Below.