Leni Riefenstahl was a film-maker of genius whose name is everlastingly associated with her film about the German chancellor, Triumph of the Will, which won the gold medal at the 1937 Paris World Exhibition. It is an unforgettable piece of cinema, with the lonely hero descending, like one of the immortals, from the clouds. As he enters the podium at Nuremberg, we only see the back of his head as he wows the tens of thousands. In Nigel Farndale’s riveting novel, Riefenstahl remarks to one of the athletes at the 1936 Olympics that the only thing which she really cares about is film. This seems indeed to have been the case.
Farndale’s story does not concern Triumph of the Will.
Nor does it do more than allude to Riefenstahl’s prodigiously long career, neither to her passion, between the ages of 75 and 95, for scuba diving, nor to her gerontic affection for Masai warriors and her truly awesome ability to capture their beauty on camera.