The Girl: Hitchcock and the unmaking of Tippi Hedren


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Last night’s UK broadcast of the biopic The Girl was a transfixing and nostalgic experience. It concerns the working relationship between director Alfred Hitchcock and leading lady Tippi Hedren. Over the years, Tippi has spoken out on numerous occasions about the way she was treated by the master of suspense, famously noting that she rejected his many advances and as a punishment she was subjected to ridicule and cruelty on set. Furthermore, he promised to ruin her career.  Their partnership lasted for only two films (The Birds, and Marnie), but these films have been considered among the greatest of Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

Directed by Julian Jarrod and written by Gwyneth Hughes, the film was extensively researched and, without a doubt, was largely based on interviews with Hedren. The film also credits interviews with other people who worked with Hitch, and Donald Spoto’s 1999 biography, The Dark Side of Genius, gives the film credibility. It is safe to say that this is a fairly accurate account of Hitch and his methods.

In the beginning, Tippi was relatively unknown. She had done some modelling and a few commercials and it was Hitchcock’s wife, Alma, that first noticed Tippi. Hitch’s obsession with Hedren grew the more they worked together and the more he tried to shape her. The initially naïve Hedren was simply grateful for the opportunity but she soon learned of Hitchcock’s peculiar and sadistic methods. ‘Actors should be treated like cattle’, he exclaimed, and Tippi, it appears, was subjected to the worst kind of treatment ever. The film recreates the bird attacks that Tippi was subjected to on set. She was told that mechanical birds would be involved but when Hitchcock attacked her with live birds during the attic scene, she collapsed due to exhaustion.

The re-creation of famous scenes from The Birds, and Marnie took me back to my days as a teenager where I discovered Hitchcock and his leading ladies. To a degree I think that this biopic relies on nostalgia and proving the survival of these films throughout generations. The famous green suit; Tippi’s audition for Hitchcock – her name is from the Swedish word ‘topsa’ meaning ‘little girl’ – the transformation scene in Marnie, and the controversial rape scene in the same film. All of these scenes made me squeak with excitement as I was reminded of my cinematic discoveries and the greatness that unfolded in front of my eyes. Moreover, the unveiling of these moments in a behind-the-scenes style added commentary on the psychological state of Hitchcock and the lengths he would go to get what he wanted. The anguish in his leading ladies face depicted as a reaction to Hitchcock’s vile and cruel nature.  Vertigo may be labelled as the true bearer of the director’s sexual obsession but it couldn’t be more apparent in Marnie.

Toby Jones’s performance was absolutely outstanding. He may not have captured everything about Hitchcock but there were clear flourishes of Hitchcock’s intonation as well as the satisfying pursing of the lips that Hitchcock so famously did. It was (and is) never about physicality. Toby’s interpretation was demonstrably excellent. He perfectly encapsulates the dark side of Hitchcock and his voyeuristic tendencies. Sienna Miller was equally as good. While I don’t think she was particularly ‘Hedren-esque’ in her performance, the one thing she did manage to capture – which I believe is the most important – is magnetism. So many Hollywood stars had this magical magnetic screen presence that compelled you to the silver screen. They draw you in and dazzle you with their presence; this is exactly what Sienna did. She greatly realised Tippi’s strong, independent nature and her performance was a pleasure to watch. Moreover, having loved Tippi since I was 13 years old (I am now 26), my inner Tippi was supremely satisfied.


2 thoughts on “The Girl: Hitchcock and the unmaking of Tippi Hedren

  1. Pingback: Review of The Girl | John Crace | The Guardian « Cinematic Narrative

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