HBO's look into the strange relationship between legendary director Alfred Hitchcock and one of his blonde bombshell leads, Tippi Hedren, begins with the most sinister of quotes: "Blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints."
Frankly, the review could end there, and that quote, with the chilling and uncomfortable feeling it provokes, would sum up the entire experience of The Girl. The gorgeous vintage style is lush and immersive, but one can never shake the feeling of deep unease throughout. There's something very Hitchcockian or even Lynchian in the way The Girl develops, and even if you are familiar with Hedren's harrowing experience filming The Birds and Marnie, there's still something exceptionally eerie about seeing it play out the way it does.
Director Julian Jarrold takes his time in letting the story unfold, from the first moments when Hitchcock's wife Alma (a muted but powerful Imelda Staunton) spotted Hedren in a TV commercial and suggested he bring her in for casting, to the infamous sequence where Hitchcock insisted Hedren be pelted and attacked by live birds for the film's apex, to the final days of shooting Marnie when Hedren began to viscerally anticipate her impending freedom away from Hitchcock's physical and psychological tyranny.
The success of the film though ultimately lies with the connection and tension between its two leads, and here things wobble, though only slightly.
The Girl is a kind of Pygmalion story, wherein Hitchcock creates the relatively unknown Hedren into his perfect image of a cool, blonde leading lady, and then falls rapturously and unrequitedly in love with her. Sienna Miller is no ringer for Hedren, but her look suffices: Miller's platinum blonde locks and wide, warm smile make her a fine choice for the embodiment of any one of Hitchcock's blondes (even Grace Kelly or Janet Leigh), and her fear of Hitchcock's unwarranted advances is easily felt. But Miller's range is limited, and there aren't many hints of depth about Hedren that suggest that she might have been more than "just another blonde." One feels for her, but we never get to hear as much about her as we do about Hitchcock, who lays his soul bare a number of times, divulging his darkest feelings and desires.
As Hitchcock, Toby Jones appears made-up and padded-up in order to embody Hitchcock, which he truly does — from the speech pattern to the walk and measured actions (punctuated by obscene limericks). Jones is swallowed up and turned into what one critic at the time said of Hitchcock: "a whale in a business suit." His strange personality is showcased almost tenderly on the one hand — one might fear him, but his loneliness and pervasive oddness cannot be ignored. On the other hand, the bulk of the focus is on this period in his life when he was at his most powerful and most lecherous, and he is ultimately a repulsive figure.
Is the film about Hitchcock, or about Hedren? Is it about the act of obsession, or the object? It doesn't give quite enough time or depth to either character to make it a personality study, but by focusing so much on this specifically small period of time, The Girl goes beyond either to become its own strange vignette.
Those looking for lurid scenes or details of either Hitchcock or Hedren's personal lives will be left wanting — there's fear and there's sadness, and much of it (particularly the latter) in spades. But this approach is not necessarily a bad thing. The idea of repression is what drives much of the feeling in The Girl. The story is, as mentioned, like a Hitchcock story in and of itself: a man creates a woman to be adored, and begins to adore her himself, not just in a quiet way but in an all-encompassing frenzy of obsession.
The result is a hypnotically uncomfortable but worthy way to spend 90 minutes that should probably be followed immediately by a re-watch of The Birds and Marnie. Seeing those two after such an experience as The Girl will make them all the creepier, but it would probably make poor, strange Alfred very happy indeed.
The Girl airs on HBO October 20th, and you can view the full trailer here.
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