by Chris Connor
The Lost Daughter earned rave reviews following its premiere at the Venice Festival and has now had its Gala showing at the London Film Festival. The directorial debut from Maggie Gyllenhall is an adaptation of the 2008 novel from Elena Ferrante. The plot focuses on Leda (Olivia Coleman) a reclusive professor on holiday in Greece. When Leda encounters Nina, an American with a young child on the island she begins to have lapses back to her own time as a mother with two young children.
The first act especially is effective at building a sense of mystery around what exactly happened with Leda’s children, Bianca her youngest especially. We catch fleeting glimpses initially indicating a tragedy may have occurred that greatly affected Leda. The use of flashback’s is initially quite short but these sequences are elongated in the middle act and help flesh out Leda’s character.
The cast are one of the film’s clear strong points and in a film that stars Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson that should perhaps come as no surprise. Dakota Johnson as Nina is initially quiet and mysterious and the unfolding of the relationship between her and Leda is interestingly handled and unpredictable. Jessie Buckley works well as a younger Leda, dissecting the strains of motherhood and her relationship with her husband.
Colman brings range to the role, seeming placid on the surface but prone to bursts of anger, a scene in the cinema where a film screening is interrupted by rowdy locals is a particular example of this. Perhaps a weak link in the cast is Ed Harris who is miscast as someone who helps out people staying on the island. There is a small but fun part for Normal People’s Paul Mescal who shows he is at home acting opposite the likes of Colman and Dakota Johnson.
While a fascinating choice of debut for Gyllenhall the narrative meanders somewhat in the middle and some of the plot resolutions, which may well stem from the source material seem to come out of nowhere and could perhaps have been handled more deftly by a more seasoned director. The choice to move location from Italy to Greece is intriguing and to move the characters from Italian to British and American, whether or not the story lost some of its power through these changes is hard to say.
Some of the humour perhaps doesn’t work as well as it should although Colman of course having a comedic background helps sell much of it through small physical touches. The nuances of the story and various twists and turns could certainly have been better sign posted and ultimately the unfurling of what occurred feels somewhat unsatisfactory while the films ending feels anti-climatic.
The Lost Daughter is a well-acted and made film and shows Maggie Gyllenhall’s aim to be a serious director. The first act especially does some fine work setting up several story threads that are resolved in a questionable fashion and threaten to derail some of the good work of the cast. While reviews have largely been very positive it will be interesting to see how the film fares with a wider audience when it arrives on Netflix.
The Lost Daughter is playing as part of the BFI London Film Festival
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