How 'Hitchcock' Rights a Hollywood Wrong

Suzanne Tenner/Fox Searchlight
Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins as Alma Reville and Alfred Hitchcock in "Hitchcock."

Instead of simply telling a story about one of history's greatest directors, Sacha Gervasi highlights his wife as well. "Alma Reville would have been Kathryn Bigelow today," he says.

It's a film that bares the legendary director's name and gives top billing to the Oscar winner who dons jowls to portray him, but one of the most elemental aspects of Hitchcock is its revisionist redistribution of the spotlight.

First-time narrative director Sacha Gervasi, whose film tells a dramatized version of the tense production of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho, made it a point to bring out from the shadows of history's editing room Alma Reville, the wife and longtime creative partner of the Master of Suspense. Played in the film by Helen Mirren, she helped Hitchcock write, rewrite and cut most of his films -- and, as Gervasi sees it, was a victim of history.

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"I think a part of the story’s about a certain point in history where women really were meant to be the hostess and be in the kitchen," Gervasi told The Hollywood Reporter. "So I think part of it was the time. But I think great iconic artists often have the limelight to themselves. There's often, even today, unseen partners who make massive contributions, and I think our film acknowledges that. And I think that’s a wonderful thing to do, particularly in this sense because Alma was so brilliant. She was a brilliant artist in her own right."

Indeed, Reville was a constant presence on Hitchcock's set, and the film explores her crucial role in both making key decisions about Psycho's story and how the action unfolds. She is the only one that can get through to Hitchcock, a stubborn man profoundly convinced of his own brilliance, and as their romantic and professional lives begin to deteriorate, the director realizes the enormity of her contributions.

Reville married Hitchcock in 1926, near the beginning of his career, and not only helped him with his films but wrote her own screenplays, as well. It was the dearth of female directors at the time that limited both her exposure and opportunity for her own career. Although the industry still is skewed heavily toward male filmmakers, women have made strides in taking charge of productions, leading Gervasi to believe that "Alma Reville would have been Kathryn Bigelow today. Absolutely."

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Bigelow in 2010 became the first woman to win the Oscar for best director. Her war drama The Hurt Locker also won best picture.

Gervasi acknowledges that there is not much new to say about Hitchcock -- "We all know that he’s a crazy, obsessive, neurotic, dark with his actresses and a bit nuts at times" -- though he does think the prevailing myth of Hitchcock presents a bit of a skewed vision of the actual man. In the new film, Anthony Hopkins plays Hitchcock as a pleasant (if self-indulgent) figure with a macabre sense of humor, and if the director, who died in 1980, was to make a film about himself, Gervasi thinks it'd surprise some people.

"I think he would not lose his sense of humor, which he had -- a tremendous sense of mischief and fun about himself," he said. "Look at that character he was on [the TV series] Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was all fun and lewd jokes a lot of the time. I think he never took himself as seriously as other people have."