One of the most famous and celebrated directors of all time, Alfred Hitchcock's life behind the cameras is also one of the most cinematic of all those who share his profession. For as much as we all love/admire/hate (delete as necessary) the Spielbergs, Camerons and Scotts, we can't really imagine the story of their lives being particularly interesting. Not so the case with Alfred, with the tales of his endless pranks, torturous shoots and unrequited loves being the stuff of legend.
Focusing on the time when he had just finished his much-adored North By Northwest, Hitchcock tells the story of the man as he attempts to make his most ambitiously risqué movie to date - Psycho. Remember, this is 1960, when even flushing toilets were considered taboo, never mind a naked woman in a shower being stabbed to death. With studios unwilling to supply the money to get it made, Hitchcock (Hopkins) decides to foot the bill himself, much to the dismay of his long suffering wife Alma Reville (Mirren). With his cast in place - Johansson as Janet Leigh, Biel as Vera Miles, D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins - Hitchcock sets up making his masterpiece, but not overlooking the fact that his wife is on the verge of starting an affair with fellow screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Huston).
The rumours of the darker sides of Hitchcock's persona are vaguely glossed over here, with his crushes on his leading ladies coming across as more playful than unsettling, and as fun as some of the behind-the-scenes segments are, (discussions about Perkins sexuality, the Bond movie that Hitchcock was offered to direct) they are too few and far between. Also, the fantasy sequences involving Hitchcock talking to serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), who the Psycho movie killer is based on, just don't work at all.
On the plus side, the performances are universally stellar. Hopkins goes a little Hannibal Lector every now and then, but it's difficult to picture anyone else playing the role. Johansson, Biel, and D'Arcy do great work with limited screen time, but it's Helen Mirren who steals the show. A talented, loving woman who has accepted her place in the shadow of her husband, and whenever the focus is on their relationship, the movie is at its most entertaining. Fans of Psycho will find a lot to love here, but anyone looking for something a bit more in-depth about the famous director will be left wanting.