Sienna Miller and Toby Jones in "The Girl"
Sienna Miller and Toby Jones in "The Girl"

HBO may be making fewer movies, but it appears that “The Girl” will be as provocative as any it has ever mounted.  It presents a distinctly unsavory vision of revered helmer Alfred Hitchcock (whose "Vertigo" tops Sight & Sound's new poll) through the prism of his unwelcome advances on leading lady Tippi Hedren during the making of the classic 1963 suspenser “The Birds.”

Hedren, beautifully turned out and still an elegant blond at 82, described Hitch as “evil and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous” during HBO’s presentation Wednesday afternoon at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills.

The film, directed by Brit helmer Julian Jarrold, premieres on HBO in October.  In clips that were shown at TCA, Hitch very nearly rapes Hedren in the back seat of a moving car on the way to the set, and is generally every bit as creepy as any character he ever concocted.   His ongoing harassment of and obsession with the former model – to the point of driving her nearly mad – is very much the focus of the screenplay, based on Donald Spoto’s book “Spellbound by Beauty.”

Hedren, played in the movie by Sienna Miller, turns to Hitch’s wife Alma (Imelda Staunton) for help, but it’s unclear whether she gets any.  Toby Jones, the diminutive British actor who starred as Truman Capote in "Infamous," plays Hitchcock, and went through four hours of makeup each day to do it.

“It wasn’t a constant barrage of harassment – there were times of delight and joy – otherwise I’d have been long gone,” said Hedren, who went on to star in the 1964 psychological thriller “Marnie” for Hitch before distancing herself from him. 

The famously controlling Hitch then refused to let her out of her contract, effectively stalling her career.   Hedren said she kept silent about his behavior for decades.  “The studios were the power then and there was nothing I could do legally.  If this had happened today I’d be a very rich woman.” 

“I can’t discern what was in his mind,” she said.  “But I can look in the mirror and feel strong, and be proud.  He ruined my career, but he didn’t ruin my life.”

(A presumably less withering view of the master filmmaker will come to theaters late this year, in the Fox Searchlight theatrical release “Hitchcock,” which stars Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, and focuses on the stakes that surrounded the making of the controversial and self-financed “Psycho.”)

Living history followed film history in HBO’s presentation, when mother-daughter duo Ethel and Rory Kennedy took the stage to discuss upcoming bio doc “Ethel,” which also premieres in October on the premium cabler.