“Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare” Was what Alfred Hitchcock said about the intent of his films on his audience. Nothing is truer in Sacha Gervasi’s admirable biopic about Hitchcock’s artistic determination to change the face of horror with his magnum opus Psycho, against the backlash of the studio system at that time.
Based on Steven Robello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the film chronicles the success of Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) previous film North by Northwest to his quest to find his next big picture. Rejecting offers to adapt such films as Casino Royale, he comes upon the lurid pulp horror novel Psycho based on the savage killings of Ed Gein whom exhumed corpses keeping their bones as ‘prizes’. To no surprise, those at Hitchcock’s studio, Paramount are unwilling – disgusted even – at the prospect of financing such a film giving the temperamental nature of Hitchcock’s success. But he is keen to carry on alone, financing the film himself and putting his estate in jeopardy. Here begins the first love story of the movie – one of Hitchcock’s determination to fight for his belief in the story. Obsessed and haunted by his involvement in the film and his lecherous fawning over his leading lady, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), he begins to alienate his wife and long time accomplice Alma (Helen Mirren). The film then details the tumultuous relationship between Hitchcock and Alma as his cold and driven nature for creating his film almost tears them apart.
As most are aware Hitchcock is projected as nothing more than a ‘legend’, ‘the master of suspense’, ‘the greatest director of all time’, etc, etc. However, as with most biopic films the idea of the ‘legend’ is often overstated. What is projected as Hitchcock’s humanity seems to be layered with crowd-pleasing, romanticised myth which feels contrived at times. This is most evident in one particular scene upon reading Psycho, Hitchcock experiences a nightmare in which an imaginary Ed Gein appears. This throws the tone of the movie and is rather unnecessary, in my opinion.
Regardless, I feel the film triumphs in the performances of the leading actors. Anthony Hopkins’s performance can only be faulted by any minor hiccups in Gervasi’s screenplay. The Welsh actor’s transformation into the role of 300lb, balding, cigar smoking Hitchcock is flawless. He delivers every line with signature Hitchcock arrogance, wit and self-assurance. Taking into account the recent negative portrayal of Hitchcock’s career in the BBC’s drama The Girl by Toby Jones; Hitchcock definitely shows the passionate, innovative genius that we all put on a pedestal.
Equally, Helen Mirren cannot be faulted in portrayal as Alma Hitchcock. She is doting and loyal throughout the film, ignoring her suspicion for Hitch’s infamous pining for Janet Leigh, his leading lady. Mirren proves how integral Alma was to Hitchcock’s working career, she is his absolute crutch in judgement, especially in the production of Psycho. Her chemistry with Hopkins is undeniable which all in all, justifies her recent Golden Globe nomination.
Whilst I personally enjoyed this insight into the story behind the making of Psycho, I feel it is of limited interest to those who are not so familiar with Hitchcock’s body of work. However, the film does go to show how Hitchcock worked against the mainstream of cinema to create what we now know as one of the greatest films of all time.
Hitchcock (2012), directed by Sacha Gervasi, is distributed in the UK by Twentieth Century Fox, Certificate 12A.