The Lost Daughter
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter premiered this September in Venice and is now screening at the London Film Festival, before coming to Netflix in December. Based on Elena Ferrante’s (of Neapolitan Novels fame) La Figlia Oscura, the female-driven drama tackles one of the last taboos left in society: a woman’s unhappiness with motherhood.
Leda (Olivia Colman) is a university professor, who spends the summer on a Greek island. Her solitary daily ritual of writing, reading, going to the beach is abruptly disturbed by the arrival of a clamorous American family. When the newcomers try to stage-manage the allocation of beach chairs, Leda’s refusal to move sets the scene for passive aggressive conflict between the vacationers. At the same time, the academic is intrigued by one of the mothers of the group – Nina (Dakota Johnson), whose struggle reminds Leda of her own inability to cope when she was a young parent.
What is incredibly invigorating about The Lost Daughter is that throughout its runtime of 121 minutes the story proceeds to unfold, with various plot points remaining inconspicuous rather than predictable.
The characterisation of Leda is courageous: unlike the people-pleasing one is used to from the typical movie heroine, this protagonist is bold – honest, even when it makes other characters or viewers uncomfortable.
Colman’s top-notch portrayal is rounded off by Jessie Buckley’s, who plays Leda at an earlier stage in her life, the complexity creating an absolute dream of a three-dimensional fictional woman. The sheer desperation she feels is palpable, not only in Leda’s flashbacks, but also in the imploring glances Nina casts at her at the beach. The fact that these two women, from different walks of life, have something in common that they are too ashamed to talk about adds an important socio-economic layer. Too often the idea of an “unfit” parent is still linked to class.
The unadorned treatment of the fact that motherhood is not always a blessing especially asks Gyllenhaal and Colman, who both have children, to put themselves in tremendously vulnerable positions, but their fortitude pays off. The Lost Daughter is the must-see to counter any of the upcoming, more artificial feel-good family flicks.
The Lost Daughter is released on Netflix on 31st December 2021.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.