Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Creepiest Hitchcock film ever? It’s the one about himself

You know you're getting old when the up-and-coming actor you fancied the pants off when you were young is now a revered screen veteran with a knighthood and countless awards under his belt.

Yes, I've always had a thing for Anthony Hopkins, ever since I saw him in the BBC's epic adaptation of War and Peace in the early Seventies. In it he played Pierre Bezukhov, the bungling and bespectacled intellectual who was so awkward and out of place amongst the glamorous glitterati of 1820 Russia high society. My mum, my four sisters and I all watched it avidly as he stumbled in and out of love, sowed some wild oats, lost his way then found it again just in time to become a national hero in the Napoleonic War and one of the greatest characters in the history of TV drama.

Although he was awkward, inarticulate and clumsy he stole the show, and my heart along with it. And I've loved him ever since, through thick and thin. The loyal butler in Remains of the Day; the heart-broken scholar CS Lewis in Shadowlands; The brittle Civil War general in Legends of the Fall ... what's not to love? As for Quasimodo, The Elephant Man, Hitler ... yes, even they appealed to me when played by my beloved Anthony.

I even had a soft spot for his most controversial character, Hannibal Lecter; in fact, I'd happily have joined him for a dinner of fava beans and a nice bottle of Chianti if he'd asked me.

Of course, I have to admit that my first ever teenage crush is getting on a bit now. The twenty year age gap didn't seem so bad when I was in my twenties but now he's way beyond a pensioner it's starting to feel a bit unsavoury.

So it was quite a relief to see Hopkin's latest movie and, for the first time ever, to find him both likeable and yet totally and utterly repellant. But then he was playing the biopic role of Alfred Hitchcock — one of the most genuinely creepy film directors of modern times. Indeed, he was so completely convincing as the portly voyeur with a penchent for young blondes that he actually made me physically cringe in a number of scenes.

Yes, it's yet another flawless performance from the master of versatility and definitely worth seeing if you're at a loose end over the weekend. In fact it's an all-round triumph for actors over a certain age. Helen Mirren also stars as his beleaguered yet fiercely loyal wife/partner Alma, without whom Alfred Hitchcock might have been a one-hit wonder.

Without giving too much of the storyline away, one of my favourite scenes (which I'm convinced was included as a humorous nod to recent real-life tabloid events) shows her indulging in some post-marriage-row retail therapy, trying on and buying a fabulously flattering scarlet swimsuit designed and intended for someone half her age.

Priceless.

If you're a fan of Hitchcock and know a thing or two about his vast collection of suspense thrillers you will absolutely love it. Meanwhile, if you aren't — or if you just want to brush-up on the great director — at the Queen’s Film Theatre they have cleverly timed a season of Hitchcock classics to coincide with this mainstream box office release. The season runs every Sunday afternoon in February and tomorrow's offering is the wonderful spy drama Notorious, starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

As a postscript, what I still find fascinating and baffling is that despite so many absolute masterpieces, Hitchcock never won a single solitary Oscar for best director. Not for The Birds, Nor Vertigo, Rear Window, Marnie, North by Northwest, Rebecca, Psycho ... not one.

And so it's no surprise really that his official biopic has been largely ignored by the Academy too. Still, in the great scheme of things, Oscar recognition doesn't always stand the test of time does it? For example, can anyone remember who directed Chariots of Fire?

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