We continue our Fresh Starts/New Beginnings theme with this tense as fuck holiday adventure starring Olivia Colman – the true queen of England. While it may not be the jolly voyage of discovery we had in mind, you could argue that confronting the secrets of our pasts totally counts.
I must admit to coming out of this one pleased as punch I chose to never procreate. Shit looks hard.
Film: The Lost Daughter (2021)
“A woman’s beach vacation takes a dark turn when she begins to confront the troubles of her past.”
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Stars: Olivia Colman ⋅ Jessie Buckley ⋅ Dakota Johnson
College professor Leda (Colman) is enjoying her Greek beach holiday when she makes the acquaintance of mysterious (and sexy) Nina (Johnson), a young mother. After Nina’s three-year-old Elena goes missing from the beach, only to be found shortly afterwards by Leda, the pair become closer, with the former admitting just how much of a struggle she’s finding motherhood.
Leda strongly identifies and we learn via the medium of flashback that she’s had her own cross to bear in life. The younger Leda (played by Jessie Buckley) also found being a mother deeply challenging and eventually admits to Nina that she left her two daughters – Martha and Bianca – with their father for three years while she pursued a torrid affair.
While Nina is relieved by the return of her daughter, Elena is inconsolable having lost her favourite doll. The doll which Leda has taken for reasons known only to herself. She keeps the doll a secret but periodically brings her out to hold and take care of. Meanwhile, Nina is having an affair of her own with Will (Normal People‘s Paul Mescal), an assistant at the resort.
Leda discovers the affair but keeps quiet, even eventually agreeing to loan out her flat to the lovers so they can meet safely in secret. Nina has mentioned that if her husband Toni (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) finds out, he’ll slit her throat. For context too, Toni is clearly involved in some sort of criminal behaviour and casts rather a sinister shadow across the island. As do the rest of Nina’s family, honestly.
When Nina finds out that Leda has been holding onto Elena’s doll – despite knowing how upset she’s been without it – she doesn’t hang around to find out why. She attacks her new friend and leaves her bleeding. Will Leda make it safely home and back to her now adult daughters – or are we going to get an ending that will leave us fiercely Googling theories on what it all means?
Well… what do you think?
This really gripped me from the get go and maybe it’s because I always appreciate art that shows the rotten side of human nature, especially motherhood. While tonally they’re very different, I appreciate this in the way I appreciate We Need to Talk About Kevin. Both are stark laments on becoming a mother of the ‘unnatural’ kind and struggling with all the micro aggressions that surely come with being a parent.
I don’t have a frame of reference of course but I can still appreciate that this says what a lot of women are afraid to say, that it’s fucking tough and sometimes you just wish it would all go away, albeit temporarily (or not). That said it also doesn’t let Leda off the hook for the decisions she’s made, and that’s interesting to me. When she eventually tells Nina that it never gets easier you can’t be sure what she’s truly admitting to – motherhood or turning her back on it.
All the performances are spot on but Leda’s younger version compliments Olivia Colman so perfectly, it’s really worth commenting on. The cinematography is gorgeous and moody, in fact there’s such a strong sense of foreboding that really adds to the overall tension.
Maggie Gyllenhaal clearly knows what she’s doing and has already marked herself out as one to watch with this, her first feature.
I guess if you were picking you could say this is a very internal, reflective piece that isn’t going to blow your socks off action wise – and the ending really does leave things open to your own interpretation. I won’t spoilt the theories here but I will say watch out for the very last scenes, they’re loaded with meaning.
MY RATING: 4/5
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