“Blondes make the best victims”
Much of the Twitter buzz I noticed about the BBC drama The Girl was along the lines of ‘isn’t Sienna Miller a better actress than I thought she was’. Like Keira Knightley, the celebrity construct around her dominates public perception and frequently skews coverage of her performance, but I have always rather liked her as an actress, way back from when she starred with Helen McCrory in As You Like It. So I was keen to take in this TV programme looking at the difficult creative relationship between Miller’s Tippi Hedren and Toby Jones’ Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitchcock plucked working model Hedren pretty much from obscurity and placed her in two of his finest films, The Birds and Marnie, but his demanding directorial style was particularly punishing on her as he worked out his own issues of sexual obsession and when she finally broke free, he made sure she didn’t work for another five years. Based on interviews with Hedren herself, it may be a biased account of events but it undoubtedly has the ring of some truth about it.
This is helped of course by the general classiness of the production and Julian Jarrold’s direction, it has a period authenticity to its look and when there are such luminaries as Penelope Wilton and Imelda Staunton in the supporting cast, one tends to be assured of at least some quality. And that is what we get. No matter how true it is, The Girl was a powerfully drawn story which suggested much about Hitchcock the man and Hitchcock the director yet cleverly stated very little, leaving an opaque veil of mystery over so much.
Toby Jones played this like a blinder, a creative genius whose originality blinded him to just how unpalatable much of his methodology was becoming and how artists at the top of their game manage to surround themselves with yes-men of all varieties as if the pursuit of great art permits any kind of human misbehaviour as Hitch devised ever more torturous scenarios in which to put Tippi in the name of his films. And as chief facilitator, albeit one with her own limits, Imelda Staunton was sensational as his wife and talent-spotting collaborator, complicit in his actions up until the point she saw the depth of his obsession.
Miller made a compelling case for Hedren, more than willing to be “putty in your hands” in order to secure her position in the slippery Hollywood business but increasingly horrified as she realises the extent to which Hitch will go in order to have his lascivious way with her and fully aware of her helplessness in the situation as what he cannot get in real life, he script into the films as a substitute. An enthralling piece of drama.