You know you’ve got somewhat of an edge as a writer when none other than Alfred Hitchcock, decides to adapt one of your novels.
That’s exactly what happened with American writer Patricia Highsmith when her debut novel Strangers on a Train found its way onto the silver screen in 1950 care of the master of suspense. And it wasn’t to be the last, as a number of her books ended up being adapted, with possibly the most notable being her 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, that ended up as a film in 1999 with Matt Damon starring.
This documentary looks at the very private life of the writer, who had to hide her sexuality for years for fears of being shunned publicly.
Eva Vitija’s film is an interesting portrayal of a popular writer of which very little is really known. Much of this you feel, is of Highsmith’s own doing.
At a very young age she loved her mother, which of course isn’t unusual, but what was is, is the fact that it wasn’t reciprocated in any way. To the point that not long after she was born, her mother left her with family in Texas, while she relocated to New York City. They wouldn’t be reunited until Highsmith was six-years-old, and even then her mother was never really motherly.
This seemingly sets her up for life, as she travels the world in search of a forbidden love. She writes a book about it, 1952’s The Price of Salt, but isn’t confident enough to have it published under her own name, so uses the pen name Claire Morgan instead.
You get the impression from Vitija’s documentary, that Highsmith didn’t open up to many people, especially if the contributor’s to this film is anything to go by. You would imagine that there would be queue’s forming around the block to contribute in some way, but it doesn’t come across as Highsmith’s way, being the type of person who would only have a small circle of friends.
Vitija is certainly helped out with excerpts of Highsmith’s own diaries, which certainly help fill in the blanks, voiced here by Gwendoline Christie.
You also get the sense that the celebrated writer wasn’t fond of interviews, so it’s fascinating to see her in the archive footage here, which must have been far and few between.
As documentaries go, this one is somewhat insular, with the subject matter being quite a tough nut to crack. Like most documentaries its born out of an obvious love the director has for her subject, and considering the many hurdles facing her, she’s done remarkably well getting across a true sense of the woman behind the successful books.
But if she were still around today, you get the impression that’s exactly how she would have wanted it, leaving her audience always wanting more.