Alfred Hitchcock is said to have quipped to Miss Bergman when she was struggling with a scene: "Ingrid, it's only a movie." The same may be said of "Hitchcock."
Hollywood's biopics notoriously play fast and loose with their subjects, be they Cole Porter ("Night and Day," 1946) or Johnny Cash ("Walk the Line," 2005). Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock" (2012) is no exception. Based on Stephen Rebello's "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" (1998)—an excellent, thoroughly researched, well-balanced book—"Hitchcock" gives its titular character the same treatment. By that I mean it often oversimplifies human complexity in order to entertain an audience. For instance: There's no evidence whatever—certainly not from Janet Leigh, who ought to have known—that Hitch uncorked his repressed fury by terrifying her while filming "Psycho"'s shower scene. That does injustice both to the director's craft and the actress's ability. Exactly how far the relationship went between Hitch's wife Alma Reville and writer Whitfield Cook, who worked on the scripts for "Stage Fright" and "Strangers on a Train," seems a matter of dispute—but in this film it serves a weak domestic, melodramatic purpose. Ed Gein's wandering in and out of Hitchcock's fantasies is pure chozzeray. For those who care to separate fact from fiction in "Hitchcock," NPR's interview with Patrick McGilligan, a reputable Hitchcock biographer—"Fact-Checking "Hitchcock": The Man, the Movie, and the Myth" (24 December 2012)—does a good job in short space.
That said, "Hitchcock" is graced by some splendid performances. Anthony Hopkins, wearing a fat suit that makes the director even more obese than he actually was in 1959-60, disappears into the character he is playing, even though he's been directed to present a more tortured, less witty characterization.. Scarlett Johansson conveys Janet Leigh's cheerful professionalism. In fleeting minutes onscreen James D'Arcy offers an uncanny portrayal of Anthony Perkins. But this movie belongs to the incomparable Helen Mirren, who captures in Alma Reville the qualities that those who knew her remember most fondly: her intelligence, wit, formidable strength, and unerring judgment. The consensus among those who knew them and have gone on record is that Hitchcock released none of his films unless they had satisfied Alma. When he paid attention to no one else, he always listened to her. If "Hitchcock" draws Alma Reville out of the shadows behind the great director and allows her a proper place in the limelight, it is movie worth having been made.
When, in 1979, the American Film Institute honored Hitchcock with a Life Achievement Award, he said to his audience: "‘I beg to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, encouragement and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter, Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville."