The Lost Daughter,The Film, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s stylish directorial debut, adapted from Ferrante’s novel, is led by a central performance of real star quality

A rich, complex and fascinating performance from Olivia Colman is what gives this movie its piercing power: she has some old-school star quality and screen presence. Colman is the centre of a stylish feature debut from Maggie Gyllenhaal as writer-director, adapting a novel by Elena Ferrante: the result is an absorbingly shaped psychological drama, built around a single traumatising event from which the action metastasises. It takes place partly in the present and also in the lead character’s remembered past, triggered by a calamity that she witnesses and in which she decides, insidiously, to participate. These scenes aren’t simply flashbacks; they have their own relevance and urgency which run alongside the immediate action.

The setting is a Greek island where Leonard Cohen is supposed to have hung out in the 1960s. A British academic arrives on holiday: this is Leda, played by Colman, a Yorkshire-born professor of comparative literature at Harvard, and she has clearly been looking forward to this break for ages, settling almost ecstatically into the vacation apartment into which her bags are carried by the property’s housekeeper Lyle (Ed Harris), an expatriate American who is wizened but virile-looking.

Leda is quite happy to do nothing but hang out on the beach, reading Dante and making notes, or journal musings, in a little book. But then her peace and quiet are disrupted by a crassly loud American family, who show up on the beach, treating it as their own private property, including Nina (Dakota Johnson), the mother of a little girl. She is a very young mother, so young you might assume she is the nanny; and there is also the loud and pushy Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk).

At first, relations are wince-makingly strained between Leda and these arrogant newcomers, but Leda becomes a hero to them when Nina’s little girl goes missing and Leda finds her, with a sixth sense for where the child might be. Yet now this little girl is herself upset by a mini-catastrophe of her own, which strangely echoes the grownups’ recent nightmare: her beloved doll has mysteriously vanished. And it all echoes inside the mind of Leda and her own troubled past, her relationship with her partner and now grownup daughters. Jessie Buckley is outstanding as young Leda, a performance that cleverly complements Colman’s.

What is great about Colman’s performance is that it is always teetering on the brink of some new revelation about Leda: her face is subtly trembling with … what? Tears? Laughter? A scowl of scorn? The initial situation might lead you to expect that Leda is basically the shy, reticent decent person and Nina and Callie and their clan are the boorish villains. But is that true?

As for Leda herself, her own sexual life is a worryingly unstable entity. She flirts with handsome young pool attendant Will (Paul Mescal), shamelessly asks him for dinner and then can’t take it the correct way when he tells her she is beautiful. When Lyle attempts to talk to Leda at the bar one evening, she makes strained conversation and finally has to ask him to leave her in peace to enjoy her supper – and then, perhaps ashamed at her rudeness, and perhaps thinking that she might find Lyle attractive after all, she vampishly adjusts her dress, strolls over to where he is hanging out with his friends and attempts a sultry, flirtatious remark which is so ill-judged that I wanted to hide my face in my hands.

The Lost Daughter has a slightly tame ending: a Nabokovian flourish of violence and aggression that is cancelled (rather implausibly) by something more emollient. But it all hangs together and Olivia Colman achieves a subtle sort of grandeur at the end.

The Lost Daughter is released on 17 December in cinemas and on 31 December on Netflix.


Share this Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *