After unprecedented promotion and shortly before the premiere of Psycho, Anthony Hopkins’s Alfred Hitchcock remarks that people will flock to picture theatres in droves, ‘like lambs to the slaughter’. The line, an obvious reference to Silence Of The Lambs, is overdue and inevitable, for Hopkins portrays Hitchcock as Hannibal Lecter in a not very convincing fat-suit.
The movie is about the ‘master of suspense’, but there is oddly little of that ingredient in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable outing. Similar but far superior to My Week With Marilyn, it is a fanzine film in which we are indulged with a fly-on-the-wall view of the great director during the genesis and making of Psycho, his classic thriller. The central motif is the now iconic shower scene (has anybody not seen it?), with a lot of pop psychology employed to inform it, including the suggestion that Hitch’s relationship with his talented but unheralded wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), strained at the time, contributed significantly to the shocking violence of the stabbing.
Whether it’s true or not, the ‘take’, with Scarlett Johansson cast as Janet Leigh, is horribly thrilling. It is called on again for the climactic, heart-in-mouth moment when unsuspecting audiences are exposed to it for the first time – it’s a fantastic depiction of early-sixties middle-America being scared out of its wits. Hopkins sleepwalks through the part, doing a commendable impersonation at the beginning and end, when speaking to camera, but Mirren, as we’ve come to expect, gives real depth to Alma.
Johansson and Jessica Biel, as the sisters in Psycho, effortlessly ooze the femme-fatale allure that Hitchcock was so susceptible to, while James D’Arcy is an uncanny Anthony Perkins. As a study of an artist who, though lauded for his achievements, is nevertheless plagued by self-doubt and the dark complexities of his own imagination, it is a bit light-on, but for cine-buffs who unashamedly love the lore and the goss and the self-perpetuating mythology of the big screen, it’s not to be missed.