The strong woman who lived in director's shadow
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren
Director: Sacha Gervasi
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What's it about? The making of Hitchcock's greatest film, Psycho
Verdict: Excellent character study of arguably one of the greatest film directors of all time
M eeting any famous actress can be pretty daunting, particularly if they're a dame and have won an Oscar for playing the Queen. But Dame Helen Mirren is delightfully down-to-earth.
Known as much for stripping off in Calendar Girls and those candid red bikini pictures from 2008 as she is for her screen credits, the 67-year-old has bared almost all again in her latest film, Hitchcock, in which she plays Alma Reville, the wife of the great Hollywood director.
There's a scene in which Alma, in defiance of their economic situation, buys a new red swimming costume and plunges into the couple's pool, which they might lose if Alfred's next film, Psycho, doesn't sell.
At the start of the film, she's also in her underwear so, as tacky as it sounds, I simply can't stop myself from marvelling at her figure. How does she do it?
"Oh God, don't ask!" she says, laughing and raising her eyes to heaven in mock (I hope) exasperation. "I don't know. Judicious cutting and editing, it's a very good thing. If you look, there's some very judicious editing going on..."
Careful editing or not, Hitchcock, in which Anthony Hopkins plays the director, is a fascinating insight into Alma – how incredible she was, and how much she was responsible for making Psycho the success it would become.
As a script and film editor, Alma was the strong woman behind the powerful man and made clever choices that would shape the film, including insisting on the screechy soundtrack in the iconic shower scene.
"I didn't know anything about their relationship before," admits Mirren, revealing that it was Alma's "strong character" that drew her to the script.
Hitchcock was obsessed with his leading ladies, almost to the point of cheating on Alma, and Psycho was no different when he cast Janet Leigh (played here by Scarlett Johansson) as the tragic heroine, just the latest in his string of "Hitchcock blondes".
But Alma overlooked these dalliances, and spent 54 years as his wife and collaborator.
"It is a love story," says Mirren. "And I think Alma and Hitch were, in their own funny, unglamorous way, a great kind of Romeo and Juliet partnership.
"They were amazing partners in life and I think they could teach us all something about how to make a successful marriage."
Mirren knows a thing or two about making a marriage work, having been in a relationship with her husband, American director Taylor Hackford, since 1986 (they tied the knot in 1997).
She says her own experience helped her identify with Alma. "When I first went to Hollywood, I was with my husband, who is – was at that time – a very successful film director. He'd made An Officer And A Gentleman and was very recognised in Hollywood.
"I did experience people walking through me to get to the great and glorious Taylor Hackford," she admitted at a recent Bafta event held in her honour.
As was the case in Alma and Hitch's marriage, Mirren thinks a sense of humour is crucial to staying together.
"You don't necessarily have to work together but certainly allowing the other person the freedom to work, if they want to. And a sense of humour, definitely. And all the better if you can work together as a partnership."
Mirren actually auditioned for Hitchcock's 1972 film Frenzy, but didn't get on with the director.
"Back then, I didn't understand. I was an idiot and I thought he was just an old-fashioned director," she explains.
"I wanted to be in Easy Rider. I didn't want to be in a Hitchcock movie. I was a fool.
"Now I know a lot better and I would love to be in one of his movies. And I think now, my work ethic, or my way of working, would actually fit very well with him. He did what great directors do: create an environment for the actor to get on with their part. I would love working like that now."
Roots: Helen Lydia Mironov was born on July 26, 1945, in Chiswick, West London, to a Russian father and English mother.
Towie: She grew up in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, and had her first taste of acting in school productions.
Tough: Her best known TV role is as straight-talking detective Jane Tennison in ITV's Prime Suspect.
Career: She has played both Queen Elizabeths, winning an Emmy for her TV performance as Elizabeth I and an Oscar for her film portrayal of our current Queen.