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The Guardian (02/Feb/2013) - Film: Between Toby Jones's dark monster and Anthony Hopkins's charming genius



Film: Between Toby Jones's dark monster and Anthony Hopkins's charming genius

Seems like it's always a one-two punch with Alfred Hitchcock. It's only been a couple of months since the release of The Girl, based on Donald Spoto's 1983 biography and centring on its saddest, grimiest revelations - namely, Hitchcock's harassment of Tippi Hedren as they made The Birds and Marnie. The film offered the first of our two Hitchcocks in the squat and toadly form of Toby Jones, who gamely captured Hitchcock's waddle and his occasional reversion in accent to a Dickensian riverside guttersnipe, and dwelt more often than not in the "macabre" end of our understanding of the director.

Now we are granted Anthony Hopkins's far sunnier version. He doesn't look much like Hitchcock, but Hopkins forges on with the same commitment that made his Nixon and Picasso so dramatically persuasive; this is the "genial, pinkly beaming" Hitch of Luis Bunuel's fond recollection late in life. Hitchcock is based on Stephen Rebello's 1990 revelatory book, Alfred Hitchcock and The Making Of Psycho, but few of its virtues are in the film.

There's a cute framing device using the director's "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" opening and closing monologues, and I exulted in little jokes, like seeing Helen Mirren's Alma Hitchcock (a joke of the wrong sort, sadly, unlike Imelda Staunton's much more plausible Alma in The Girl) clad in exactly the same bra-slip combo that Janet Leigh wears in Psycho's opening scene. But an improbable near-affair is confected for Alma to give the movie the narrative engine it otherwise lacks, and instead it drains the life from it.

I always thought Hitchcock had got the better of Spoto. The biography was published - to widespread disgust and disappointment, much of it unfairly misdirected at Spoto - only a few months before the 1983 rerelease of five movies made at Paramount in the 50s, including the masterworks Rear Window and Vertigo. Sure, Hitchcock was the master of suspense (that phrase makes for the funniest joke in the Hopkins movie), but more than that he was the master of self-promotion; his TV shows, magazines and Three Investigators books keeping him popular deep into the 70s. The Paramount Five rerelease was a masterstroke: a massive shoring-up of his already mighty reputation - from beyond the grave! Great self-promotion, and characteristically macabre to boot. Genius. And bye-bye, Spoto.

Now the shoe is on the other foot: Vertigo finally knocks off Citizen Kane in the Sight & Sound poll and then, not months later, Spoto, at one remove, has his teeth in the Old Man's ass once again. In answer to the dual portraits of Hitchcock in these two very middling movies, I quote Kipling via Hitchcock, a line briefly, almost subliminally visible at the racetrack in Strangers On A Train: "And treat those two impostors just the same."