From Picasso and Nixon via Adolf Hitler he has brought vivid life to some of the most iconic figures in history. In attempting Alfred Hitchcock, Hopkins makes what is a potentially fatal error: he opts not for caricature. By the time he made Psycho in 1960 – the backdrop for this hybrid of romance and character study – Hitchcock was arguably the most famous filmmaker on the planet. That profile, those jowls, that voice… Hitch was bigger than his movies, and he knew it. Hitchcock is not a biopic. nor a study in obsession and misogyny. It emerges as a portrait of a marriage, and the man himself comes out of it as a needy obsessive whose partnership with wife Alma (Helen Mirren) is at the heart of his success.
Hopkins chooses to underplay, giving a laudable approximation of Hitchcock’s tones and camouflaging himself beneath layers of prosthetics. Yet still it works. The secret weapon is the effortlessly scene-stealing Mirren, subtly rivalling Hopkins by not being required to fulfil a send-up.
Hitchcock will fail to satisfy many. It is not a warts-and-all portrait of the man or an incisive “making of” docudrama about Psycho. It does not focus on Hitchcock’s penchant for blonde heroines.
What it presents are a series of hints at his behaviour, his ego, his treatment of women, his stubbornness and a devil-may-care approach to house and home. Hopkins and Mirren make a superb double act, and there is support from Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles), Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh) and James Darcy (as Anthony Perkins).
It just doesn’t do what it says on the tin.