The Lost Daughter review: Unusual yet effective portrayal of motherhood

Rating: 4/5

Netflix’s The Lost Daughter is an adaptation of the novel by Elena Ferrante, directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley in the lead roles. In this story, a quiet beach vacation takes a dark turn when Leda, a middle-aged professor gets obsessed with a mother and daughter. This obsession conjures up memories of her early motherhood which she has yet to come to terms with. The movie is now streaming on Netflix.


Leda (Olivia Colman) arrives in Greece for a work vacation. She is there to have a peaceful holiday at the beach all by herself as her grown up daughters have left to stay with their father in Canada.

She is not allowed to enjoy the quiet for too long, as a loud family with many members known as the the Calistas occupy the beach. A young mother, Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter, Elena are also part of that family. Leda takes a sudden liking to them and starts watching them. She sees her younger self in Nina.

Her obsession with them brings back memories of her past, depicted through flashbacks. Young Leda (Jessie Buckley) is burdened by the pressures of motherhood. She is stuck in-between choosing her career or family. She makes some questionable choices that still haunt her.

In some twisted way Leda thinks she is getting a second chance at motherhood now, but at what cost?


Leda is a very complex character, quite unlikeable even. Olivia Colman embodies her perfectly. She portrays Leda’s scorn, wonder, joy, unsurety, flirtiness and wistful longing looks with ease.

Jesse Buckley has no physical similarities to Olivia Colman but still we believe that she is the younger Leda. This is because she perfectly intensifies the emotions and attributes of Leda that were already established. She is required to portray an extreme and out of control Leda, unlike the one portrayed by Olivia, who is a mellowed down version of the same.

Dakota Johnson also puts forth a good performance. Her character, Nina is multi layered. She is a loving and caring mother but is also quite unhappy with the struggles of motherhood. Dakota captures the essence of a fractured, messy young mother perfectly.


Maggie Gyllenhaal in her debut directorial does a great job at maintaining the intrigue throughout the film even though the plot is quite simple.

The cinematography by Helene Louvart helps us get into Leda’s mind. As Leda watches Nina and Elena, even we see them from Leda’s point of view. With the many lingering close-up shots in this film, all the emotions are conveyed more effectively.

The movie shows an honest portrayal of the struggles of motherhood and doesn’t try to justify the actions of the main characters. It doesn’t feel the need to make its characters likeable.

The costumes and music are chosen very appropriately and it enhances the effectiveness of the narrative.


The Calista family is hinted at being involved in organized crime, however this theme is not explored further which might make the movie’s pay off slightly less satisfying for some. All the mysteries are psychological, some of which Leda uncovers while the rest, we the viewers have to.

The non-linear storytelling might be a little hard to follow.

Worth it?

The Lost Daughter is a well-crafted movie with great performances. It portrays motherhood unusually which makes you think and question yourself. Definitely worth a watch.

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