But five minutes into Hitchcock—with Hopkins loafing in the bath with a newspaper perched on his bulging gut, pontificating in a low drawl—all disbelief was suspended till the closing credits.
Hitchcock zooms in on the tumultuous period in 1960 when the already-famous British-born director decided to make a horror film called Psycho.
Following the success of his most-recent film, North by Northwest, the 60-year-old is irked by a reporter’s comments he should retire and leave the industry on a high.
In a bid to rediscover the artistic danger of his youth he refuses an offer to direct Casino Royale, a movie about a spy called James Bond, and instead turns his attention to adapting the grisly novel Psycho, based on the murders of real-life serial killer Ed Gein, for cinema.
Paramount gags at the prospect of Hitchcock making another uncommercial flop—Vertigo struggled on its initial release—and Hitchcock re-mortgages his house to finance the film himself.
As Psycho goes over budget and Hitchcock falls ill, the pressure mounts on the veteran director to salvage his reputation and his sanity.
Ever-present is Hitchcock’s complex relationship with women: his ice-blonde leading ladies, his mother and his wife, Alma Reville (portrayed with gutsy aplomb by Oscar-winner Helen Mirren).
All the relationships are slightly dysfunctional, with Hitchcock fantasising over the beautiful actresses he works with, including Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren and Ingrid Bergman.
When Reville seeks the company of Hollywood hack-writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston)—a sub-plot which never really catches fire—Hitchcock becomes increasingly paranoid she is having an affair, but giving little thought to his own obsessions.
Like Hitchcock’s voyeuristic camera, the audience becomes a fly on the wall, buzzing around the couple’s bedroom and the Psycho film set.
Rumours of Hitchcock’s misogynist behaviour towards his leading ladies is insinuated when the director brandishes a knife at Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) in the infamous Pyscho shower scene, to invoke genuine terror.
But Hitchcock’s dark side is never fully explored. This is essentially a homage.
Soap lovers will enjoy the Hollywood tittle-tattle and melodrama of Hitchcock’s eccentric marriage and film buffs will revel in the behind-the-scenes nuggets about the development of Psycho.
The saving grace of what is, at the end of the day, an elongated tele-movie, is the two leads’ flawless performances, who make the most of a tight and witty script.
“You may call me Hitch. Hold the cock,” he tells Janet Leigh. Boom boom.
Hitchcock is entertaining but, unlike the man himself, somewhat thin.
by Stephen Pollock