Jessie Buckley On The Lost Daughter: “What Is A Good Woman?”

courtesy of netflix.
Jessie Buckley wants to let us in on a little secret. 
“Inevitably, the truth always comes out,” she smiles. “The secret of the real fucked-upness, chaos, brilliance and struggle of what it is to be a woman and a lover and daughter.” She leans forward, like extolling some untold wisdom of the universe. “When it does, you feel like you can finally breathe a sigh of relief.”
Most of us are all too aware  – in what has been universally acknowledged as a tumultuous few years – that this aptly-put “fucked-upness” is just the baseline current state of the times we’re living through right now. But the Irish actress is talking about a more ancient truth – a reality that on-screen portrayals are only waking up to in recent years: that women, too, are selfish, impulsive and sexual beings, writhing in the wake of the morally questionable decisions they make. This is something she lifts the lid on in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s simmering debut psychodrama The Lost Daughter
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courtesy of netflix.
For this adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s book of the same name (already the recipient of much Oscar buzz), Buckley joined Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Paul Mescal and Ed Harris, filming on the scenic Greek island Spetses – an experience the 32-year-old admits made her “really grow up as a woman.”

There are so many different ways to have an affair in your life, whether you’re a man or woman.

Jessie Buckley
Like twin blades dancing around each other – beautiful at times and menacing at others – Buckley and Colman both play the same person on two different timelines, mother-of-two Leda. They inhabit two different chapters of the same life, beholden to each other for the decisions they made in the past and blind to how these choices will reverberate into the present (Buckley tells me they bonded on set via “very in-depth rosé drinking”). We experience flashbacks of frustrated and overwhelmed young Leda (Buckley), an academic juggling a marriage and two young daughters, her burgeoning career constantly interrupted by domestic life, fighting to separate her sense of identity from the demands of parenthood. About halfway through the film, we see her make a desperate decision to save her own life, her own dimming spirit – and we see present-day Leda (Colman), now a middle-aged professor, haunted by her past decisions.
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“Guilt’s shit, isn’t it?” Buckley laughs when we catch up over Zoom. “[The Lost Daughter] deals with the guilt, and the struggle of working through that guilt.”
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Some would argue that The Lost Daughter joins a slew of recent portrayals – including in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, as well as the recent HBO remake of Scenes from a Marriage – which have all played a part in ushering in an era of ‘unlikable women’ on our screens, aka literally just women who do ‘bad’ things. In The Lost Daughter – spoilers ahead – Leda ends up having an affair, and, in a stomach-churning scene, leaves her children for three years before returning. It evokes a sharp inhale of breath upon viewing, if not for the sole reason that we still reserve more severe judgement for women that cheat or abandon their family. For men on-screen, these flaws are almost an expectation.
courtesy of netflix.
“There are so many different ways to have an affair in your life, whether you’re a man or woman,” Buckley says. “You can have an affair with a bottle of whiskey every night, and that's still cheating. For Leda – poetically, physically, intellectually – she was hungry to be turned on. She wanted to be part of a world that was turning around and not something that was just switched off because she was just a mother now and that's all that was available to her. She genuinely needed to have an affair with the world again.”
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In the present-day, Olivia Colman’s Leda is in Greece for a working holiday. When the daughter of another holiday-goer goes missing – the toddler of young, exasperated mother Dakota Johnson – she feels kinship towards her, understanding how beautiful, yet how disturbing and violent motherhood can be. At points we see Colman’s entire face crumpled with regret.
courtesy of netflix.
“I think everybody acts selfishly,” Buckley continues. “I mean, she would have been a psycho if she just stepped away and felt nothing – she feels so much. And that heartache becomes a part of who she is.”

Maybe the mother that actually chooses to live life and step into the next chapter of herself, regardless of all the risks that are going to inevitably fall down around her when things change, is really what makes a great woman.

Jessie Buckley
In the middle of the film, without prompt, Leda says out loud the thing we’re never supposed to say. It crystallises as soon as it touches the air: “I’m an unnatural mother.” And the film holds no punches in breaking down that long upheld societal taboo: that not every woman who comes of a certain age is gripped by a biological maternal instinct. For Buckley, it’s about reframing how we qualify what makes a good woman. Bad fathers are still allowed to be good people – why can’t the same forgiveness doled out to women?
courtesy of netflix.
“Maybe what we consider to be a good mother isn't necessarily the mother that stays, or the mother that's there to pick you up every day on time, and have your tuna sandwiches made,” Buckley muses. “Maybe the mother that actually chooses to live life and step into the next chapter of herself, regardless of all the risks that are going to inevitably fall down around her when things change, is really what makes a great woman. Maybe we need to change how we judge what is a good mother, a good wife, or a good woman in the world. And actually, maybe we should try and just be open to the different chapters in people’s lives.”
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Buckley’s career has been illuminated with these portrayals of mercurial and complex characters: her star-making turn as a repressed yet uninhibited woman who falls for a suspected serial killer in Beast; her turn as a brash Glaswegian convict trying to make it as a country singer in Wild Rose; then a girlfriend merging into the meta in Charlie Kaufman’s trippy I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Next up, the actress is working with esteemed author and filmmaker Alex Garland for A24 horror, Men – she’ll play a young woman mourning the death of her husband while on holiday in the English countryside. She says: “Working with somebody like Alex Garland was such an experience because it was like creating something on a completely different level. That's a motif of my life: chaos.”
As our chat draws to a close, Buckley reveals that she thought of her own mother a lot in the making of the The Lost Daughter; she was someone she felt to be the “backbone” of the film for her in every way. Due to the pandemic, the first time they saw each other in two years was at the London Film Festival premiere for the film. “I'm the eldest of five; she's had five kids – four girls and one boy,” Buckley remembers. “[When she watched the film] I genuinely felt like she took a huge sigh of relief, and felt so part of this common experience that had never really been spoken about out loud. It made me feel so proud to be her daughter, and proud to be speaking this truth. I just recognised [Leda] in all the women in my life. She's my mother. She's my sister. She's my girlfriends.” She beams from ear to ear, her Kerry accent lilting joyfully. “She's me.”

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