The Childhood Of A Leader

Director: Brady Corbet (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

A powerful tone poem more interested in character than plot or historical detail, this is a period drama framed as a horror movie.

It’s an impressive directorial debut by American Brady Corbet who also wrote and produced. The Childhood Of A Leader received its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival where it won Best Debut film and Best Director.

Former pop star Scott Walker provides a blisteringly percussive avant-garde soundtrack, the photography is hauntingly beautiful and the design is rich with period texture. All of which contribute to the heavy atmosphere of foreboding.

But the oblique storytelling is as frustrating as it is compelling.

Young Brit actor Tom Sweet is impressively controlled and angry as a young boy whose  experience in France have tragic repercussions.

Berenice Bejo and Liam Cunningham are icily convincing as emotionally distant parents who find the behaviour of their angelic looking son increasingly difficult to handle.

Stacy Martin and a bearded Robert Pattinson add to the fetid domestic atmosphere. The former plays a language teacher with more than one admirer and the latter appearing as a journalist.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the boy’s stern father is part of the American negotiating team to the Treaty of Versailles in 1918.

Humiliated, deceived and punished, the boy absorbs the lessons of manipulation and control. His character is a reflection of the European political theatre and the disastrous consequences of his father’s failings at work are repeated and magnified in his son.

@ChrisHunneysett