The author of a new book about Sir Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Birds has called on the BBC to apologise to the director’s family over his portrayal as a “lascivious letch” in recent drama The Girl, and withdraw the DVD.
Tony Lee Moral, whose book The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds is released later this month, accused The Girl, a co-production with HBO, of “damaging his reputation”.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Birds. Mr Moral said: “People will never get tired of Hitchcock’s films; unfortunately I think The Girl has done an awful lot of damage in the view of the lay person. The BBC should apologise to the Hitchcock family and for misleading the general audience.”
He rejected the drama’s view that Hitchcock became obsessed with the leading lady Tippi Hedren and subjected her to physical and mental harassment during the filming of his 1963 masterpiece. The team behind The Girl remain adamant it is an accurate portrayal of the relationship between director and star.
Mr Moral’s book queries The Girl’s portrayal of two of the key set-piece scenes used in the drama screened on BBC 2 on Boxing Day, which show Hitchcock, played by Toby Jones, at his most manipulative: the filming of a bird smashing a phone booth with leading actress Tippi Hedren inside, and her character being attacked by multiple birds in the attic.
Both suggest he callously put his leading lady in physical danger, possibly to punish her for rejecting his advances, and that he revelled in her discomfort.
“The drama suggested he took pleasure in the phone box scene and Hedren hasn’t contradicted that,” Mr Moral said: “The most damaging thing is what it has done to Hitchcock’s reputation. Ordinary members of the public think that he would harm her with broken glass, which is absurd,” adding it was an accident that the glass smashed.
He added: “Why would he intentionally physically harm her after intentionally giving her the lead part in his next movie?”
With the attic attack, which took five days to film with birds repeatedly flying at Hedren, “he was very nervous, he didn’t want to film it. He’s not doing it to torment Hedren, he’s doing it because he needs those 67 bits of film for the montage,” Mr Moral said.
Leanne Klein, the executive producer on The Girl, defended the drama. She said it was “based on extensive and rigorous research, including interviews with a range of sources close to Alfred Hitchcock.”
She added that writer Gwyneth Hughes “interviewed surviving members of Hitchcock's cast and crew, some of whom were speaking for the first time, and their insights helped to inform scenes and characterisation within the drama.”
This included assistant director Jim Brown, who died before the drama was screened, although his widow has since said Brown would not have endorsed the film.
Hedren and Donald Spoto, who wrote The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, “believe the film accurately represents Hedren’s experience of working with Hitchcock,” Ms Klein said.
Mr Moral interviewed over a dozen members of the film’s cast and crew for the book. “Everyone I’ve spoken to who worked with him said he was nothing but a consummate professional. None corroborated the idea of this sadistic, mean spirited man.” He conceded that Hitchcock had a “controlling, possessive side”.
The Hitchcock Estate has declined to comment throughout the furore surrounding The Girl, as well as the big screen, and less controversial, biopic Hitchcock, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren.
Mr Moral said: “It’s not only an offence to him but the Hitchcock family as well. I think the DVD should be withdrawn.” Previously, the BBC withdrew a drama about the stars of the sitcom Steptoe and Son, after the family complained.