'Is it possible that Benito Mussolini was even worse than the official history makes him? Marco Bellocchio's drama believes so, portraying Il Duce not only as the man who led Italy into the abyss but disowned his first wife and separated her from their son.
Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) falls for the young Benito (Filippo Timi) just before the First World War and is so dazzled by him that she sells all her property to finance his political ambitions. But she later discovers that Mussolini is already married, by which time he has switched from socialism to fascism and his seduction of a whole country is underway. Ida believes in him withal, even as she is spirited off to an asylum, pining for her son. Timi as Il Duce is chilling - self-belief irradiates him devilishly - but in the second half he yields centre-stage to Mezzogiorno's tragic prisoner, her delusional idolatry of Mussolini echoed by the nuns who are her jailers. (Ida died in 1937; her son Benito died five years later, also in an asylum). Bellocchio's heated operatic style occasionally recalls the Bertolucci of The Conformist, though he brings the mood savagely down to earth with archive footage of Mussolini himself gurning before the masses. What is it about egomaniacal, philandering baldies that mesmerises Italians?'