Anthony Hopkins, by his own admission, doesn’t go in for all this fancy method acting. He turns up and he reads the script. The problem is, sometimes it shows; beyond the rippling fat-suit and layers of impressive cosmetics, the only similarity between him and Alfred Hitchcock is their initials.
Hitchcock centres around the troubled birth of the director’s most famous movie, Psycho, with Hitch (as he is known to his friends) already a well-established, grossly-obese, foie gras guzzling control-freak.
His unhealthy, sexual obsessions with his blond female leads (Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds, was especially distraught after his advances) is a central theme, although director Sacha Gervasi is at pains to keep matters upbeat.
The result is a messy portrait of the artist at work that veers from jaunty caper-movie to psychological drama, with little holding the two poles together.
The use of imagined conversations between Hitch and Ed Gein – the real-life serial killer who inspired Psycho – is a lazy way of addressing the director’s demons, and the shots of Gein’s isolated farmhouse, intended to look “Hitchcockesque”, are a clumsy imitation.
Helen Mirren brings some warmth to the proceedings as Hitch’s long-suffering wife Alma Reville, who is by far the most fully-formed member of the supporting cast. While Hitchcock offers little insight into the mind of the great director, Alma’s pivotal role in his success – including her expert eye during the editing process – is at least an interesting consolation.
The star turn comes from James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins, the actor who played the infamous Norman Bates. D’Arcy looks uncannily like the actor and nails his mannerisms – Gervasi’s biggest crime is restricting him to just a handful of scenes.
Scarlett Johansson has little to do as Janet Leigh, except look good with a short, blond haircut (notwithstanding some impressive screeching during the reconstruction of one particular scene from Psycho – you can probably guess which one). This could be a statement on Hitch’s infamous treatment of his stars – they were cattle; props to allow him to realise his genius – or it could be that there just wasn’t the space for another fully developed personality.
Hitchcock suffers from making too few choices: on one hand, it could have been a jolly romp through late 1950s Hollywood, on the other, a searing portrait of a troubled genius. Gervasi has a stab at both and, like Leigh’s Marion Crane in Psycho, is already dead half an hour in.
First published in City A.M.