"Anthony Hopkins gives a brilliant, albeit slightly over-the-top portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock"

Alfred Hitchcock, one of the most iconic figures in the history of cinema, finally receives his own biopic treatment from director Sacha Gervasi, in what is the filmmakers narrative directorial debut after his breakthrough with the highly praised documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil.

Written by John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan), who adapted his screenplay from Stephen Rebello’s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”, Hitchcock covers the brief period that goes from the release of the great directors 1959 critical and box-office hit North By Northwest to the aftermath of his following, and most successful picture, Psycho.

By the time North By Northwest came out, the 60 year old Hitchcock had enjoyed two decades of Hollywood hits, since having been brought to America from his native England on the strength of his British output.

His long string of innovative and successful mystery thrillers had gained him the nickname of ‘The Master of Suspense’. For his next project Paramount Pictures expected another product in what was now a tried and true formula, so when Hitchcock proposed a horror flick based on a novel that the studio deemed “repulsive”, he was denied his usual budget. Unwilling to let it go, he financed the film through his own company. What came out of it was Psycho, Hitchcock’s highest grossing picture and one of the most popular and controversial films of all time, which helped push the boundaries of the cinematic experience, especially regarding the depiction of violence and sexuality on screen.

The story of Psycho’s troubled development, together with the idiosyncrasies of its director – including his notorious fixation for the blonde stars of his films – are certainly a good starting point to invent a story upon, and that is exactly what Gervasi and McLaughlin did. Hardly an accurate and factual report, Hitchcock draws on real events to create an ultimately fictional work, much in the same way Darnell Martin’s 2008 film Cadillac Records told the romanticised story of Leonard Chess and his record label Chess Records.

Given these premises, it’s only too fitting for Hitchcock to start with a reprise of Funeral March for a Marionette, the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” theme, rearranged here by Danny Elfman: if we forget that this is supposed to a biographical picture, Hitchcock is a sure purveyor of retro-flavoured entertainment.

Anthony Hopkins gives a brilliant, albeit slightly over-the-top portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock. Aided by prosthetic jowls and a fat suit to evoke the director’s iconic silhouette, Hopkins does a great job in trying to replicate Hitch’s trademark humour and emphatic speech, while on the more introspective moments he let us experience the troubles of a creepy and insecure man who is closely looked after by his devoted wife Alma Reville – played by Helen Mirren with usual prowess. 

The relationship between the movie genius and his wife and muse feels like the most over-dramatised and fabricated aspect of the plot: Alma’s input in Hitchcock’s oeuvre goes beyond mere inspiration and support, we are led to believe that at times she was the real mind behind the Master’s projects, the one who put the pieces of Hitch’s wanderings and deliriums together. We see Alma making decisive moves to help her often feckless husband to complete his picture, even handling movie direction herself when Hitch falls ill.

The action drifts away several times from the set of Psycho, and Mirren has more chances to steal the show when the story dwells on Alma’s writing relationship with screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), the latter presented as an alluring man with whom Hitch is convinced his wife is having an affair: another effective trick that, though historically unlikely, certainly adds some extra tension to the story.

In the end Hitchcock and Reville’s relationship constitutes the real core of the plot, so much so that the other superstar on the bill, Scarlett Johansson playing Janet Leigh, gets very limited on-screen time, with nothing much to do apart from reenacting Psycho’s legendary shower scene.

Hitchcock might not be a film on which to base a dissertation on the famous director, but taken for what it is, it delivers 98 minutes of quality lightweight charm.