Dir. Julian Jarrold
(2012, TV-14, 91 minutes)

HBO’s The Girl is a stark contrast to the recent theatrical film Hitchcock. Both are about the legendary director and take place not far apart from each other; Hitchcock, which covered the making of Psycho, could lead almost directly into this film, which is about the projects that immediately followed: The Birds and Marnie. The films are more interesting considered together than they are on their own because of how markedly different they are, showing portraits of one artist as two distinctly different men, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both portrayals can’t be entirely accurate, though I won’t try to parse biographical truths from dramatic licenses.

Where Hitchcock was a routine biopic content to ruffle no feathers – it imagined the filmmaker as a flirt who didn’t show enough respect to his devoted wife Alma – this film makes the opposite mistake. It is lurid almost to the point of camp, imagining that Hitchcock not only fawned over his leading ladies, but practically raped them with his camera – or at least, that’s what is shown to have happened to Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds and Marnie. It is true that Hedren has accused the director of ruining her career after she rejected his sexual advances, but this film recreates him as such a one-dimensional, over-the-top lech that we half expect Benson and Stabler to intervene, or Chris Hansen to pop out to catch a predator.

Toby Jones plays Hitchcock; it’s ironic that this is not the version played by Anthony Hopkins, because The Girl‘s depiction suggests Hannibal Lecter as much as Hitchcock. But Jones is not to blame. He fully inhabits the role, much the way he did when he played Truman Capote in Infamous, another film overshadowed by a higher-profile project with the same subject; one day the poor guy will get a biopic all to himself.

It’s directed by Julian Jarrold, who previously helmed Red Riding and Appropriate Adult, two films I also felt missed the mark. His approach to this material doesn’t disappoint because of his assertions about Hitchcock – drawn from Donald Spoto‘s book Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies – but because of how flatly he and screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes render him and Hedren (played by Sienna Miller, who like Jones does a fine job despite the film). This is Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, or Lecter and Clarice Starling, and the sinister music and lighting combined with Hitchcock’s glares are so overwrought they’re almost comical. Whatever his faults as a man, he was certainly a great filmmaker, but this film implies that his only artistic goal on The Birds and Marnie was to vicariously torture his star. Certainly a more interesting man – even a villain – could have been made of him than that.