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BFI (2013) - Will the real Mrs Hitchcock please stand up?




Will the real Mrs Hitchcock please stand up?

With Helen Mirren and Imelda Staunton playing very different versions of Alfred Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville in recent biopics, curator Josephine Botting wonders which is closest to the real Mrs Hitchcock.

When Alma Reville, wife of Alfred Hitchcock, died in 1982, Charles Champlin wrote in the LA Times that “the Hitchcock touch had four hands and two of them were Alma’s.” While Hitchcock received most of the credit for the 54 films he directed, Alma’s significant contribution should not be underestimated.

Two recent biopics, the HBO/BBC drama The Girl and the newly released feature Hitchcock, bring the relationship between the Hitchcocks into the spotlight. The two actors playing the portly director, Toby Jones and Anthony Hopkins, give an almost identical interpretation – well known for his size, voice, chin, deadpan delivery and rather lewd sense of humour, Hitchcock has become an iconic figure. But the presentation of Mrs Hitchcock differs greatly in the two dramas.

Imelda Staunton takes the role in The Girl; physically much more similar to the real Reville, she portrays a rather meek woman who, fully aware of her husband’s infidelities – whether real or fantasy – chooses to ignore them. Something of a victim, she even feeds his obsession with blondes, spotting Tippi Hedren in a TV commercial and suggesting her for The Birds (1963).

Helen Mirren, in Hitchcock, is taller and more physically striking than Reville actually was. She is forceful and decisive, saving the production of Psycho (1960) while Hitchcock languishes in bed (a complete fiction, by the way). It is she who is tempted to have an affair, d...