Film Review: The Lost Daughter (2021)

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter is an unalloyed success with a brilliant performance from Olivia Colman at its heart 

“Children are a crushing responsibility”

Based on Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut – which she also adapted – is a bracing and bold piece of cinema, featuring a stunning lead performance from Olivia Colman. And if there was any justice in the world as it currently is, The Lost Daughter and Gyllenhaal herself would be getting much more Oscar buzz.

The Lost Daughter follows college professor Leda as she holidays in Greece but whilst she’s ostensibly there to relax, a strange tension lies in the air. Something in her spirit feels restless from the off, made worse by the arrival of a gobby family from Queens, shattering the peace even further when their 3 year old daughter goes missing momentarily.

Without revealing too much more, what follows is an uncompromising dissection of what modern society expects of mothers and an unblinkingly honest look at the impact on those who don’t fit that mould. Colman’s Leda is brilliantly inscrutable, unknowable perhaps too as her actions slide into the unpredictable with memories of years past overlapping onto them. 

Gyllenhaal wisely resists offering any easy answers too, giving us the complexity of human emotion and its chaos too, as consequences ricochet in the present (Dakota Johnson excellent as the mother of the missing girl) and reverberate in the past (Jessie Buckley continuing a rich vein of form as the younger Leda struggling with her own two younger daughters).

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