One of the more controversial films at Sundance, Savage Grace dramatizes the real-life story of Barbara and Tony Baekeland, a bizarrely intertwined high-society mother and son whose Oedipal relationship ended in tragedy. Screenwriter Howard A. Rodman, who adapted the script from the book by Natalie Robins and Stephen M.L. Aronson, plucks five key periods in Barbara and Tony's lives from the wealth of source material to sketch out the broad strokes of the path that led to Tony stabbing his mother to death with a kitchen knife in their London penthouse in 1972.
Barbara married above her class to Brooks Baekeland, heir to a sizeable family fortune generated by his grandfather, who invented Bakelite plastic, one of the first artificial manufacturing materials, and a consumer product whose possibilities made it both far-reaching and wildly lucrative. The Baekeland's wealth allowed them to move in high society and to live around the globe. The film focuses on Barbara (Julianne Moore), who was known in their social circle for her outbursts of temper, bouts of depression, and risque sexual encounters. Barbara's relationship with her son Tony (Eddie Redmayne) was tumultuous and crossed boundaries, ultimately resulting in Barbara seducing her son into an sexual relationship, which ultimately led to Tony's breakdown and murder of his mother.