Said to be loosely inspired by the early childhood experiences of many of the great dictators of the 20th century, The Childhood of a Leader (starring Tom Sweet and Robert Pattinson) attempts to examine how sociopaths who come to power become who they are. More specifically, what part of their psychoses is nature vs. nurture?
This is a beautifully shot movie with music and many scenes that will remind you of The Omen. Both films are about a horrifying young boy, who will one day become a world leader, except in this film, the parents are far too wrapped up in themselves to parent this person like they should, with catastrophic results. Like the adage says, “If You Have Children, Remember This; When You Finish With Them, The Rest Of The World Has To Live With Them, So Please Teach Them Respect.” ~ author unknown. Despite the fact that The Childhood of a Leader is billed as a horror film, this child possesses no otherworldly powers. He is simply a disrespectful, narcissistic, little egomaniac who is left unchecked. The horror is in watching his extremely undisciplined life and who and/or what he grows up to become.
Despite the fact that this child displays signs of being a bit “off” more and more over time, the workaholic father leaves him to the stay at home mother, the mother leaves him to the housekeeper, the housekeeper is fired and so the child is left to the mother again; the child is left to the French tutor who cannot handle him, but then he outgrows the need for tutoring, so back to the mother he goes. His mother cannot deal with him and he is left to the father, and on and on and on like this throughout the movie. Discipline does not exist in the form of punishment and when punishment is administered, it is severe. Also, there is no discipline in the child’s day to day activities as he hangs around the house with the servants and attempts to get attention from his parents with absurd interruptions, outburst, and tantrums. He doesn’t even attend school, although I’m sure that if he did, he would have many problems there as well. Early on his mother attempts to get him involved in church youth activities, but he doesn’t quite fit in there, to say the least.
Tom Sweet’s performance as this unapologetic brat is excellent. Robert Pattinson shows the way to break out of being typecast, as he takes on dual roles here. Rounding out the main cast, as the boy’s father and mother are Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth from Game of Thrones) and Bérénice Bejo. Each does an excellent job at relaying their frustration with a child they have absolutely no idea how to manage.
While the movie is well written, it tends to drag in spots. A bit more editing would have gone a long way. The WWI footage is well integrated into the story to give you an idea of the era and environment in which this child is being raised, what is happening in the world at the time, and his family’s relationship and parallels to it all. The similarity in look and sound to The Omen take away from the originality of the plot.
The Childhood of a Leader earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. It is a well written, intriguing story that is worth a look.