REVIEW: The Lost Daughter (London Film Festival 2021)

Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter is an honest and assured psychological study of what it means to be, or not to be, a parent.

Leda (Olivia Colman) is a middle-aged literary professor on a solitary summer holiday in Italy. Her contentment, lying on the beach, marking her papers, is disrupted by the arrival of a large, brash American family, who lay their claim to the beach.

When a little girl vanishes, and is shortly rediscovered, it causes Leda’s own memories, and failings, as a mother to painfully resurface; culminating in a strange, impulsive act.

The directorial and writing debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal, based on the book by Elena Ferrante, the film observes its protagonist with clarity and without excuse. Jessie Buckley plays Leda in flashback, mother to two young daughters and with a burgeoning academic career.

It is testament to both her and Colman’s performances that you understand how the former, trying to write, frustrated by the constant demands of motherhood, becomes the latter – her prickliness, almost hostility, to the attentions of her fellow holidayers, concealing deep repression and regrets. Both love, but both are torn by their own passions and desires.

It’s a performance double act that’s likely to secure Colman her second consecutive Oscar nom1 and Buckley her first.

The supporting cast are equally adept – including Dakota Johnson as a young mother facing a similar dilemma; Ed Harris as bright-eyed local handyman Lyle, another lost soul; and Peter Sarsgaard2 as another brilliant, passionate academic.

Gyllenhaal makes extensive use of extreme close-up, in a way that’s neither intimate nor anatomical, but coolly matter-of-fact. Hélène Louvart’s photography draws out subtleties in performance and Dickon Hinchliffe’s enveloping score provides a continuity between the two women, whom you are never in any doubt are one and the same.

The apartment in which the present-day Lena stays is periodically blasted by ship horns and falls beneath the passing rays of a lighthouse – light and sound intruding in upon her, much like memory.

This is a striking, subtle film and one I look forward to revisiting.

The Lost Daughter is due for release in UK cinemas on January 7th, 2022

  1. Her third counting her win in 2017’s The Favourite.
  2. Whom I’ve just learned as Gyllenhaal’s real-life spouse.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

Leave a Reply

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