HBO’s “The Girl” is a terrifying look within the relationship between iconic filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and his leading lady, Tippi Hedren — one of “the girls,” as Hitchcock insisted on calling his actresses. The film does a masterful job of setting the scene: Toby Jones plays Hitchcock and strangely bears a disturbing resemblance to the man. Sienna Miller shows a great deal of strength in her portrayal of an actress plucked from obscurity only to be trapped by a seven-year contract. “The Girl” takes the viewer past the aesthetic facade of “The Birds” and “Marnie” and into the sinister musings of a man possessed.
The film follows the plight of Hedren, a single mother and little-known model looking to hit the big time in Hollywood. Much to her surprise, in spite of having little hope and even less acting experience, Hedren is cast as the lead in Hitchcock’s upcoming thriller, “The Birds.” Hitchcock believes the birds to be the main stars of the film, seeing no need to cast a household name. He is captivated by Hedren’s beauty. However his captivation soon turns to obsession. Hitchcock was reported to have had similar attractions to each one of the girls, but with Hedren it was different. Her strength and serenity in the face of his advances only provoked the director.
Jones removes a bit of Hitchcock’s mystique in entering the role. The film depicts Hitchcock as a lecherous old man, his perversion stripping him of all mystery. His slow, signature drawl, iconic profile and posture are perfectly replicated by Jones in an unspeakably eerie performance. In juxtaposition with Miller’s wide-eyed shock at each of his advances, the dynamic between the two generates discomfort. The viewer often feels the urge to avert their eyes from the screen. Many of Hitchcock’s irksome quality in the film is derived from his frank manner; the man knows no bounds. Whether reciting a dirty limerick or asking a colleague for sexual favors, Hitchcock does so in a way that assumes his dominance without any hesitation or shame.
Miller plays Hedren well, although her role is hardly as challenging as Hitchcock’s. As an eager young ingénue, Hedren hopes to form a close bond with the iconic director, and Miller brings a sense of personal despair to the part, showing Hedren’s deep dismay over the collapse of their working relationship. In a particularly disturbing scene, the young actress is subjected to over 45 takes in which she is attacked by live birds. Miller’s portrayal of determination in the face of deep exhaustion and terror is remarkable.
“The Girl” is stylistically akin to a classic Hitchcock film, and although the content is undeniably interesting, it’s an interest that one might not be wise to pursue. Disconcerting to a fault, “The Girl” is often cringe-worthy. The tale is well-told, as many of HBO’s feature films are, but what lies beneath almost feels like a private matter — a secret that should retain its mystery.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 22 print edition. Isabel Jones is a staff writer. Email her at email@example.com.
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