Music, Arts & Culture » Movies

The Lost Daughter is a rumination on parental guilt


In her feature-length debut, writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal helms this story about a woman confronting her past, based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Italian author Elena Ferrante. Olivia Coleman stars as Leda, a middle-aged college professor on a solo beachside holiday in Greece. She begins to unravel emotionally when another guest, Nina (Dakota Johnson), and Nina's daughter, Elena (Athena Martin), remind Leda of her own troubled relationship with her daughters, Bianca (Robyn Elwell) and Martha (Ellie Blake), when they were children. Through flashbacks, with Jessie Buckley as a young Leda, we begin to learn of Leda's long repressed parental guilt. The film is nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay for Gyllenhaal, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Coleman, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Buckley. (121 min.)

BEST ACTRESS NOMINEE Olivia Coleman stars as Leda, a middle-aged college professor on holiday who begins to confront her past as a parent, in three-time Academy Award nominee The Lost Daughter, screening on Netflix. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ENDEAVOR CONTENT
  • Photo Courtesy Of Endeavor Content
  • BEST ACTRESS NOMINEE Olivia Coleman stars as Leda, a middle-aged college professor on holiday who begins to confront her past as a parent, in three-time Academy Award nominee The Lost Daughter, screening on Netflix.

Glen Maggie Gyllenhaal is an amazing actress, but aside from writing and directing the first episode of the TV series Homemade in 2020, she hasn't been behind the camera, which is why I'm blown away at how skillfully constructed this story is and how deftly directed. It's very much an art house film, a psychological examination of parenthood set in a sunny seaside Greek village. It's a quiet respite for Leda until a boisterous extended family arrives at the resort. At first Leda is annoyed, but a child becomes lost, and as the frantic family searches for her, Leda saves the day by finding her somewhere down the beach. Soon she and this child's mother, Nina, develop a relationship, and Leda begins to ruminate on her early relationship with her daughters, unearthing buried guilt and leading Leda into aberrant behavior. I felt both sorry for her and ... WTF are you doing, weirdo!

Anna Shame and guilt can lead to some very odd and desperate choices, and that's certainly the case here. Coleman blows me away as an actress and delivers, once again, a stunning performance. Complicated and disconnected, Leda demands solitude and doesn't feel the need to please others. Her fascination with Nina's obvious struggle with her young daughter is our gateway into Leda's past, which she seems to be trying to escape. It paints the picture of the less-than-rosy side of parenting, the way children can bleed a parent dry of patience and energy, and the burden—especially on a mother—of laying aside a career or passion to raise her family. It's definitely an art house film, and by the sizable distinction in critic (95 percent) and audience scores (48 percent) on Rotten Tomatoes, it's clear that it may have gotten just a little too odd for a lot of the general public. However, I've got to side with the critics on this one. I thought it was a brilliant and fascinating film.

Glen Coleman is a terrific actress, but I liked Buckley even more. I wasn't familiar with her until I saw Wild Rose (2018), about a Scottish single mother, recently out of prison, who dreams of becoming a Nashville country star. She's made some interesting choices, like the Charlie Kaufman-directed film I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020). She plays selfish in a very subtle, believable way. This is a very female-centric story. Johnson's great at the enigmatic Nina, and Dagmara Dominczyk was brash and domineering as the boisterous family matriarch. The men in the story are secondary, but with Ed Harris and Peter Sarsgaard, there's plenty of talent in the mix. It's a strange story that ends in a very unexpected way, but if you're tired of superhero movies, it's a breath of fresh air.

Anna I'm a big fan of Buckley as well, and she brings a wonderful dynamic to Leda's character. This is one of those films that seems to want to make its audience just a little bit uncomfortable, and it does that. There is just something so unexplainable about Leda and her actions, also the fact that she is unapologetically rather odd. She doesn't seem to be someone who wants more human connection, yet we see in some ways how she is so desperate for it. I don't know that I could say you are going to have a ton of fun watching this film—it is emotional and sometimes frustrating, but Buckley and Coleman and the cast around them really are impressive. This film is about choice and consequence, for good or bad, and how that shapes our lives and our future selves. Watch this one when you have time to pay attention; the magic is in some very subtle moments with these actors. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at


Add a comment