Iconic English director Alfred Hitchcock, considered by many The Master of Suspense, is revered as one of the greatest creative minds in the history of cinema. Known for his psychological thrillers, Hitchcock focused on characters in peril, on the run, or under suspicion. His leading men were handsome but compromised; his leading ladies were cool, beautiful and preferably blonde.
One such actress was Tippi Hedren, an unknown fashion model given her big break when Hitchcock's wife saw her on a TV commercial. Brought to Universal Studios by Hitchcock and offered a seven-year contract, Hedren was shocked when the gifted director, at the peak of his successful career, quickly singled her out and cast her to star in the ambitious and terrifying film The Birds. Little did she know that the most daunting aspect of the film would come from behind the camera.
Debuting Saturday, October 20 (9:00-10:35 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO, The Girl stars Toby Jones as Alfred Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren, and tells the story of the director's obsessive relationship with his leading lady during the making of The Birds and Marnie. As he attempted to sculpt Hedren into the perfect Hitchcock blonde of his imagination, he became obsessed with the impossible dream of winning the real woman's love. Her rejection of his misguided attempts only added to his obsession, putting both their careers and personal lives in jeopardy.
Other HBO playdates: Oct. 20 (11:35 PM), 21 (5:15 PM), 24 (1:00 PM, 8:30 PM), 28 (2:15 PM, 1:00 AM) and 29 (Noon, 9:00 PM), and Nov. 1 (5:30 PM), 2 (8:15 PM), 3 (2:00 PM), 6 (12:30 PM, 12:10 AM) and 10 (10:45 AM)
HBO2 playdates: Oct. 25 (9:00 AM, 8:00 PM) and Nov. 4 (10:00 AM, 8:00 PM), 14 (9:00 AM, 9:00 PM), 19 (3:15 PM, 11:00 PM), 24 (6:25 PM) and 27 (6:25 PM, 3:50 AM)
Directed by Julian Jarrold from a screenplay by Gwyneth Hughes, and based on the book "Spellbound by Beauty," by Donald Spoto, the film is a complex tale of power, obsession and the price exacted for stardom. Imelda Staunton, Carl Beukes and Penelope Wilton also star. Produced by Amanda Jenks and executive produced by v for Wall To Wall Television, The Girl is an HBO Films presentation in association with BBC.
About the Film
In 1962 Alfred Hitchcock was riding a wave of success with his acclaimed film Psycho. With the world at his feet, he was in a position to make any film he wanted and work with the best A-List actors. Eager to top his latest box-office hit, he decided to make a suspense film based loosely on The Birds, a 1952 story by Daphne Du Maurier. Set in Bodega Bay, Cal., the film follows an attractive visitor and the town's residents as they attempt to cope with a series of widespread, violent bird attacks over the course of a few days.
Hitchcock believed the birds were actually the stars of the film, which eliminated the need to cast a well-known actress in the lead role. The risk-taking director chose, instead, to pluck one of his stock players out of obscurity. After days of expensive screen tests, Tippi Hedren, a striking ex-model with no acting experience, was awarded the coveted role of Melanie Daniels in The Birds.
As if Hedren had been created in Hitchcock's personal science lab, "The Girl" (as he called all his leading ladies) was the perfect specimen of a Hitchcock woman: beautiful, graceful and coolly self-assured, with a hint of mystery. The attentive director took a Svengali approach to his young protégé, supervising her professional and personal look and wardrobe, tutoring her in wine appreciation and giving her lessons in acting and filmmaking, grooming her for months to be a star. The grateful Hedren basked in his initial attention and felt confident theirs would be a mutually productive and beneficial professional relationship. For a time, it was.
Hitchcock's first surprising and inappropriate advance came halfway through the filming of The Birds and was met by Hedren's horrified rejection. A responsible single mother in her early 30s, trying to make a living for herself and her four-year-old daughter, Hedren was not a wide-eyed starlet willing to be a pawn in a celebrated man's fantasy. Feeling like family as she was wined and dined repeatedly in the company of his wife Alma, Hedren was crushed by Hitchcock's inappropriateness and incredulous at this betrayal of trust.
Comments director Julian Jarrold, "Tippi was, I think, a very strong and moral person who stepped into this extraordinary world with all these rituals and hierarchies, where you do exactly what the director wants and you're expected to sort of bow down to his every whim. While she was grateful for the opportunity and for his tutelage, she always kept a certain distance which, I think, frustrated and also fascinated Hitchcock. This slightly cool, distant quality of hers took him to further levels of obsession."
Explains writer Gwyneth Hughes, "Tippi was a grown woman who had been modeling successfully since her teens - strong, single, independent, with years of experience fending off men who wanted to exact a sexual price for taking her photograph. But even all that experience and strength could not help her deal with the tsunami of unwanted attention which came her way as Hitchcock's unrequited passion for her grew. Tippi was not a natural victim, in any way, and, for me, that makes her isolation and ordeal even more touching."
Observes Sienna Miller, who plays Tippi Hedren, "The relationship between Tippi and Hitchcock was, initially, very close and very warm. He could be very charming and funny and she found him completely endearing and hilarious. Being so close to Hollywood royalty was uncharted territory for her, so she thought it wonderful and felt close to him and his wife. Then, gradually, as his obsession with her built and manifested itself, she rebuffed his advances, leading to a simmering tension and, sadly, the eventual disintegration of the relationship."
Toby Jones, who plays Alfred Hitchcock, cites the director's penchant for control as an underlying factor in his tempestuous relationship with Hedren, saying, "It's actually a power struggle between these two people who fundamentally like each other, and are drawn to each other, but who need different things from each other. The story is about that negotiation. The film explores the limits of Hitchcock's control over Tippi and to what extent he wasn't able to manipulate her. I think he became more and more intrigued with that part of her that he wasn't able to control."
Adds Jarrold, "It's a story that starts off very optimistically, and then gets darker and stranger as we delve into his dark obsessions and her defiance, as she tried to keep control of her personality. It's a love-hate kind of relationship and a clash between these two quite strong personalities. Hitchcock could be the most charming person in the world, and sometimes he behaved like a bully."
In addition to the ebb and flow of his complicated relationship with Tippi Hedren as he morphed from father figure to spurned suitor, The Girl explores the female support structure Hitchcock relied on to buoy and reassure him, including wife-collaborator-muse Alma and Peggy Robertson, his loyal assistant for more than 35 years, both of whom were a barrier to people getting too close and annoying him.
Says Imelda Staunton of her character, Alma Hitchcock, "She worked alongside Hitchcock and was very involved with his filmmaking, as he always deferred to her and wanted her opinion. She tolerated the huge crushes that he developed on his leading ladies because she knew that's how he worked and that nothing was ever going to come of it. Interestingly enough, she apologized to Tippi for his behavior, but expected her to get on with it because the movie had to be made."
Observes Penelope Wilton, who plays Peggy Robertson, the director's long-suffering assistant, "In researching Hitchcock, I learned that there was nothing spontaneous. He hated spontaneity. He didn't like an environment that he couldn't control, so he much preferred working in a studio than outside, because the natural environment was always precarious and he didn't know what was going to happen."
Adds Jones, "What's striking about our story is that Hitchcock prided himself on the control he exercised over every single element of his films. But because of decisions he made, like hiring a non-actress and embarking on a technically, highly sophisticated film like The Birds, Hitchcock began to lose control of the film a little, or certainly felt as if he did....a pattern that continued with his next film with Tippi: Marnie."