Movies about the film industry itself always run the risk of navel-gazing, insiderdom.
No director figure has ever been more famous than Alfred Hitchcock and the Leytonstone horrormeister gets a frothier, bigger budget outing here, after HBO’s, The Girl which went out last year. This time the master of suspense is played by Anthony Hopkins, in an amusing turn with the same level of resemblance the Welsh actor had to President Nixon: sod all, plus prosthetics.
In common with the Toby Jones treatment, Hitchcock delves into the production of one of his movies, this time Psycho in 1959, to try and shed light on the, er psychology of the man, famously obsessed with blondes and scaring audiences.
We find Hitch looking for his next big project, the studio want him to make another one like North by North West and he’s fretting that ‘my association with television has cheapened me.’ Add to this his Hollywood experience have left him feeling old and in need of ever more assurance from his creative partner, wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).
If anything the film (played partly for laughs and partly for lightly-sprinkled psychology) hinges on their marriage. We see through Mirren’s adroit performance Reville’s huge contribution to the director’s legend as his business partner, editor, confidente and anchor to his eccentricities. All the while the director draws up plans to turn Robert Bloch’s peculiar novel into his next opus; drawing fire from the studio and American censors alike.
Sacha Gervasi’s film balances amusing domestic scenes – Hitch told to diet and sneaking round the house with sticks of celery and secret foie gras fridge raids – and movie biz kvetching, with the likes of producer Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg).
What is given slightly shorter shrift is the idea that Hitch is traumatised in some way; as shown by the voyeurism which pervaded his career on screen and – it has been suggested – off it. We see peep holes into Janet Leigh’s (Scarlett Johansson) dressing room and the English director staring lasciviously at scores of actress headshots. This is a curiousity that pains his wife and a peculiarity for a man, who is otherwise shown as sexless (the couple sleep in separate beds). Further darkness is hinted by the dreamlike presence of Ed Gein, the real life killer on whom Psycho was based – played with typical menace by Michael Wincott.
And what of Sir Anthony Hopkins? It is an amusing performance, in truth slightly pantomine, all teeth, rubber fat suit and wobbly Leytonstone intonation. You also occasionally get a slightly reptilian quality, that harks back to Hannibal Lecter. To be fair to Hopkins, he gives it plenty of welly, in a screenplay which is more fluffy entertainment than Shakespeare.
In the end, Hitchcock is an entertaining confection, fans of Hollywood history will gets some easy pleasure from it. The most substantial element in it is Helen Mirren’s performance as the real woman behind the man, even if she is not the type he is obsessed with.