The Background

Barbara Daly Baekeland was a wealthy socialite who was murdered by her son, Antony Baekeland. Baekeland had a complex and allegedly incestuous relationship with her gay son, Antony. She attempted to “fix” her son by having prostitutes take him to bed; after this failed, Baekeland was alleged to have manipulated or coerced her son into having sex with her.

Barbara & Antony Baekeland

The Baekeland’s were determined to promote Tony as some sort of child prodigy, constantly showing off to their friends about everything he had written or drawn at school. ‘They wanted the boy to be a genius,’ said artist Yvonne Thomas. ‘That’s what struck me. I felt uncomfortable with him because I felt he felt he had to be something.’

One acquaintance remembered the Baekeland’s ordering their young son to read aloud from the Marquis de Sade’s erotic writings. Another broke off contact with the couple after hearing Brooks’s evident pride as he described how Tony had pulled the wings off a fly to see how it would affect its balance. ‘That kind of sadistic behaviour is quite common in children, but one seldom sees a father who thinks it is marvellous,’ said the shocked friend. Read on… [Warning: Daily Mail]

The Film

A sick-room torpor hangs heavily about this masterfully controlled, elegantly composed movie by Tom Kalin. It is a sensational, lurid story: erotic and repulsive by overlapping turn. And it’s pulp fact. Barbara Daly was the would-be actress, artist and social alpinist who in post-war New York married wealthy Brooks Baekeland, a travel writer and heir to the Bakelite fortune.

Her drinking, her propensity for making a scene in public, and her weakness for pseudo-bohemian adulterous flings evidently made the marriage a living hell. She could find a smothering intimacy only with her gay son, Tony Daly. Mother, father and son created a dysfunctional love triangle which ended in violence and bloodshed.

It is a story of the very rich, a milieu rarely and not always convincingly rendered in the movies: a brittle world of selfish people who are never sympathetic and often never even comprehensible. Appropriately for the leisured classes, Kalin has an eye for the mood and feeling of ennui. When Tony helps his mother from the bath, the camera lingers on her knees and she looks as vulnerable as a sickly child. This is a gripping, coldly brilliant and tremendously acted movie. [Full Review]

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