One great blessing of the current trend toward diversity and inclusion is that Netflix green-lit this scathingly honest psychological exploration of the ambivalence of motherhood, trusting actress Maggie Gyllenhaal to make her auspicious directing debut unraveling its psychological complexity.
The foreboding story follows a middle-aged, British, divorced, literature professor, Leda (Olivia Colman), as she embarks on a solitary summer holiday. Arriving on the Greek island of Spetses, she’s immediately welcomed by the flirtatious handyman (Ed Harris) who handles her rental flat.
After a genial bartender (Paul Mescal) has settled her into a comfortable lounge chair under an umbrella, Leda steadfastly balks after being rudely asked to move ‘down the beach’ to accommodate a brash, boisterous American family, headed by pregnant Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk).
Instead, introverted Leda begins watching an attractive young mother, Nina (Dakota Johnson), part of that rowdy clan, who is obviously torn between the pleasures of youth and the responsibility of parenthood as she copes with her needy, cantankerous toddler daughter.
That brings back unnerving memories of how Leda herself struggled while raising two daughters – Bianca and Martha – both now grown and living far away.
“I’m an unnatural mother,” Leda (Jessie Buckley as her younger self) says, feeling overwhelmed and guilty while admitting to utter exasperation with her attention-demanding girls.
Back then, Leda was working as an ambitious translator of Italian poetry, so eager for intellectual/artistic recognition in her field of study that she recklessly makes a life-altering choice involving a sexy professor (Peter Sarsgaard) at an academic conference.
Then, suddenly, there’s panic on the beach as Nina’s little girl goes missing, along with her beloved doll.
Based on Italian author Elena Ferrante’s challenging 2006 novella, it’s adapted and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, working on supplying contradictory cinematic feminine subtext in conjunction with French director of photography Helene Louvart and astute editor Affonso Gonvalves with music by Dickon Hinchliffe.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Lost Daughter is a subversive yet compassionate 7 – in select theaters and streaming on Netflix on December 31.