LFF 2021: The Lost Daughter – Review

Release Date – 17th December 2021, Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 2 minutes, Director – Maggie Gyllenhaal

When another woman’s (Dakota Johnson) child goes missing, while on holiday in Greece, Leda (Olivia Colman) begins to be taken back to her early and troubled years of motherhood.

The Lost Daughter gradually opens its doors in a way that a perfect television series would run. With Olivia Colman on holiday. Quietly lying on the beach, bathing in the Greek sun while enjoying the occasional ice cream. One of the biggest delights that the film presents is her carefree, in-the-moment belting out of Livin’ On A Prayer. However, as feature debut writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal further pushes the door open a past of emotional pain slowly creeps up on Colman’s Leda as she almost re-experiences what she views as her bordering-on-tragic early years of motherhood.

It all stems from the missing child of Dakota Johnson’s young mother, Nina. It appears that there’s something about this event which reveals a much more worried, troubled and at times oddly behaving side to Leda. We see her mind flashback to her life with two young daughters of her own (her younger self played by Jessie Buckley). And in fact without these flashbacks Colman’s performance and character as a whole may seem somewhat off balance and out of place, however with the jumps back to Buckley – while occasionally feeling like we’re seeing too much too early on – it feels more grounded and, obviously, contextualised. There’s a further air of drama to her character and when mixed with her excellent performance makes the film overall more compelling as it acts as a simplistic, yet effective character study.

While most elements feel stripped down and looking at the general basics it simply allows for character, particularly Leda and her behaviours and interactions as her potential failings as a mother come under increasing light, to take centre stage. Behaviour and responses move the drama along and hold a grip on you that only tightens as things progress. You don’t truly realise how caught up in the piece you are until your emotional responses, questionings and even shock create equal interaction with the film as Leda acts out. Going from something oddly compelling to a film of true dramatic weight, thanks to its simplicity and the central performances that bring everything to life.

There’s tension in the friendliest scenes. As Leda and Nina get to know each other, despite an initial heated interaction on the beach with the latter’s family, we almost worry that some of Leda’s actions, such as taking the doll of Nina’s child, will be found out; more for the dramatic stakes rather than the character herself. All while managing to avoid a general dislike for the central figure. Even scenes where Leda is hiding an affair which she discovers Nina is having, further echoing her life, the stakes feel high for herself. She’s almost put her life on pause by retreating, still to work, to a Greek island, yet it’s where her past truly catches up with her and is almost put on replay from a dual first and third person perspective.

You watch in interest and intrigue at how the course will develop, with a slight air of finely balanced tension and emotion during such moments and interactions. It’s emotion which lies in the background of plenty of scenes as you can see Colman reflecting on her life, the two grown daughters she doesn’t appear to have any contact with now. Information is fed to you piece by piece through performances, through small details in the dialogue and the atmosphere of each scene.

Yet, by the end, you can’t properly explain what about The Lost Daughter makes it so good. There’s just something about the general tone and atmosphere that quietly brings you in to explore the past of the troubled figure at the centre of the piece. One who clearly doesn’t always think about what she’s doing in the moment as she worries about her regrets of the past. Much of it comes down to a fantastic central performance from Colman, and a great supporting cast – particularly Johnson and Buckley – all of whom manage to lift the gradually growing emotional pan, tragedy, regret, tension and more; all of which becomes increasingly powerful as the actions, thoughts and feelings of the characters allow the narrative to progress. It’s a fine piece of work, perhaps one of the best of the year, that almost comes from nowhere, particularly if you go in knowing as little as possible about it, and it’s all the more impactful for it.

While holding a selection of great performances, especially a weighty turn from Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter succeeds most in its subtlety and gradual building of points and information. Offering an emotionally intriguing delve into the past and present thoughts and actions of the increasingly mysterious central character.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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