Childhood of a Leader, film review: “Euphoric and deliriously bleak”

childhood of a leader

childhood of a leader - Credit: Archant

Childhood of a Leader, starring Berenice Bejo, Robert Pattinson and Liam Cunningham, is not easy, but you rise to the challenge.

This is a film that will doubtless exert a magnetic appeal to the word “pretentious” in reviews but from its first moment I felt myself rising gleefully to the challenge of this dimly lit, po-faced drama and went with it happily to its euphoric and deliriously bleak finale.

It’s a kind geo-political version of The Omen, set in the aftermath of the First World War. An American family temporarily settled in France as part of President Wilson’s team negotiating what will become the Treaty of Versailles find themselves disturbed and distressed by the outrageous tantrums of their young son.

The film mirrors the personality of its leading figure – stern, unrelenting, demanding and full of its own importance, but backed up by a malevolent self-assurance.

The film is a directorial debut by American actor Corbet. On screen he been attracted to sombre, heavy roles (Simon Killer, Melancholia, Force Majeure) and there’s no loosening up behind the camera.


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The film has a forbiddingly serious opening sequence, an overture, incorporating newsreel footage of the time, establishing the bleak situation in Europe in 1918, which the Americans are determined to set right.

One of its great assets is a phenomenal original score by Scott Walker; and one of the great assets of Walker’s score is that it is actually music, rather than the donkey-bothering excesses of his more extreme works.

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That’s not to say he’s gone easy on us, but as the music pounded over the scenes of post war deprivation, I thought it must be by some major 20th composer I was too ignorant to recognise.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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