Do we take Olivia Colman for granted? I know she’s already an Oscar-winning actress but her level of consistent and intelligent excellence seems to be accepted as normal now, when really it should take the breath away.
These thoughts struck me watching her in The Lost Daughter, in which she plays middle-aged literature professor, Leda, who feels overlooked, forgotten about, as she holidays alone on a lovely Greek island (and, by the way, oh to be on Spetses now that winter’s here…).
Leda is a bristly British type and refuses to budge when a brash local family swarm off their flashy boat to take over the beach for lunch. The younger women look daggers at her as she buries herself in her book. However, when a child goes missing, it is Leda who comes calmly to the rescue after a long search in the woods.
However, this incident and witnessing the panicked, guilty pain of young Mum Nina (played by Dakota Johnson), sends Leda into bitter introspection. We flashback 20 years or so, to her time as an academic with a brilliant career being hampered by her newfound status as a mother of two young daughters. In these scenes ( which I found less interesting and something of a distraction), Leda is played by Jessie Buckley, which is an odd match-up and, I give it the benefit of the doubt because, indeed, it’s almost as if she’s an entirely different person to this painfully lonely woman we see on the island.
Jealous and judgy, desperate for attention, Colman is incredible here, creating a complex character who’s masking deep, destructive impulses with the flimsiest sheen of civility, the clues to her inner discomfort visible in the nervous blink of her eyelashes, her sweaty brow in the prickly heat, or the faintest baring of the teeth.
Built around Colman, who should be up for all the awards, this is a beautifully mysterious film, based on an Elena Ferrante story and adapted by the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal for her own impressive directing debut.
The Lost Daughter is mostly about mothers, good ones and bad and all those strung out in between, and it gets under the skin, tingling with a tension that may or may not be going anywhere physical but is certainly arrowing to an emotional crisis.