Written for RAF News December 2021
Olivia Colman stars as Leda Caruso, a middle-aged language professor taking her working holiday alone in Greece, finding a peacefulness that will very quickly evaporate. The fruit bowl in her apartment is mouldy, the apartment neighbours a working lighthouse, and some undesirables, from a villa just up the way, have taken over the beach.
Not shy of confrontation, Leda politely refuses when asked by the matriarch of this rowdy group of New Yorkers if she could make space for them, instigating a feud that underlies the rest of the film. Even when Leda helps to find the group’s young daughter when she goes missing, there remains an unshakeable tension.
Actor Maggie Gyllenhaal makes her debut as writer and director on The Lost Daughter, adapting Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name. Through this complex central character, Gyllenhaal weaves together two timelines to explore reflections on motherhood, identity and regret.
Leda is self-assured, if not combative, so when she stands her ground, the young mother of the group, Nina (Dakota Johnson) takes an interest. This connection runs both ways as Leda observes Nina struggling with her young daughter, exasperated by her constant need of care and attention. These moments serve as a springboard into flashbacks, in which we see Leda 20 years earlier (played by Jessie Buckley), trying and failing to manager her independence and her two daughters. Through Leda’s exchanges with Nina, she is reckoning with her past self, offering reassurances, but edging ever closer to danger.
The film paints a picture of so-called ‘unnatural mothers’ enduring trials of parenthood that are messy and punishing, normalising these ideas and expanding the scope of female relationships on screen. An impressive piece of filmmaking with challenging characters and ideas, and solid performances across the board.