The Childhood of a Leader

One of those occasions when, as the lights went up, it was obvious that the majority of people in the audience had gone to this film expecting something totally different.

My local art house theatre described it thus:

“Set amidst the turmoil of World War I and its aftermath, it follows the young son of an American diplomat living in France as he learns to manipulate the adults around him – a monstrous coming of age that ominously parallels the rising tide of Fascism in Europe.”

It sounds for all the world like a costume drama, perhaps Downton Abbey with an edge? The publicity image has Robert Pattinson, Liam Cunningham and Bérénice Bejo dressed for formal dinner so it’s easy to make assumptions.

And while it is all of the above, the atmosphere is much more sinister, the characters more icy and distant than I had imagined. There are shades of We Need to Talk About Kevin or The Omen in the air. The pace is glacial, the colour palette muted, emotions are stifled; and everything is driven along by a storming soundtrack by Scott Walker which is one of the best I’ve heard this year.

First-time director Brady Corbet is to be commended for his vision and risk-taking here – I’m not convinced that it worked fully, but it was worth my time to watch it. Not sure the rest of the audience felt the same though!

This post also appeared at


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