'The Girl' review: It's no Hitchcock on HBO

Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren and Toby Jones

Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren and Toby Jones as Alfred Hitchcock in HBO's "The Girl." (Credit: HBO)

THE TV MOVIE "The Girl"

WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 9 p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Based on "Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies" -- Donald Spoto's 2009 account of the director's ongoing obsessions with Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman et al -- this dramatized account picks up the story of Tippi Hedren's (Sienna Miller) fraught experiences on the set of "The Birds" (1963) and "Marnie" (1964).

How fraught? The old boy -- played by Toby Jones ("The Hunger Games") -- repeatedly hit on her, and after rejecting him, he made her fend off live birds for five days straight. Also starring Imelda Staunton (the "Harry Potter" films) as Alma, Hitch's long-suffering spouse.

MY SAY Viewers with differing life experiences may come at this film with differing, possibly opposing, reactions. Any woman who has had to fend off a lecherous sociopath in the office will likely be sympathetic to Hedren. But it's not clear the film is sympathetic to her.

Just imagine! The story of a beautiful actress who had to fight off the advances of a lascivious director? What is Hollywood coming to anyway? But Jones is the big and happy surprise here. At first, he plays Hitch like a randy funeral parlor director. But his portrayal slowly accrues facets -- and power. He's smitten, cruel, creepy, demanding, manipulative and alternatively sexually repressed or aggressive. But he's also generous, lonely, self-loathing and self-medicating.

Miller's Hedren is cool, distant, humorless, whiny and reproving. She's the perfect block of ice. He's the flawed human. Take your pick from the "Who's More Interesting?" category. Hitchcock was also one of the greatest directors in cinematic history. She was (sorry) a two-hit wonder, and they were his hits. However, she has said he blackballed her afterward, ruining her career. To an extent, this robs a well-made film of any real dramatic power. It often feels inert, or even a bit plodding. Hitch himself would demand a bit more tension -- or maybe he'd just order up more birds.

BOTTOM LINE Film lovers will -- possibly against their better judgment -- love Jones' "Hitch."

GRADE B+

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