Actor-turned-director Brady Corbet wears a whole bunch of literary, historical and cinematic references on his sleeve with this shadowy psychodrama set in France in 1919. Wrapped in an intense and nerve-plucking score by Scott Walker that adds to a general sense of repression and foreboding, Corbet’s exquisitely shot and carefully designed story mostly takes place in the rural home of a stuffy American diplomat (Liam Cunningham). He’s taking part in the negotiations at Versailles that ended World War I, leaving his European wife (Bérénice Bejo) and the household staff to deal with his troubled son Prescott (Tom Sweet).
The boy’s unruly behaviour and the awkward, oppressive treatment he receives from his parents is clearly meant to mirror and comment on the political goings-on as peace terms are agreed with the defeated Germany. There are hints of Michael Haneke’s ‘The White Ribbon’ in the film’s mysterious suggestions about the childhood roots of later evil – suggestions that become explicit in the film’s delirious and bold final minutes. ‘Childhood’ is not always a subtle film, and some of the writing and acting feel like a bit of a slog. But its very spooky mood leaves a strong impression.