Sarah Cullen celebrates Clare Dunne and Malcolm Campbell’s drama about young mother Sandra who escapes her abusive husband and fights back against a broken housing system.
There’s something very tactile about Herself. Perhaps it’s the way Clare Dunne and Malcolm Campbell’s script carefully and masterfully weaves the chaotic and disparate elements of the life of protagonist Sandra (played by Dunne) together, bringing her plight to life in a way that will hit home to many. It may also be the fact that, at its heart, Herself is a film about, well, building a house. There’s something fascinating and compelling about watching Sandra and her family take their future into their own hands through timber, nails and concrete.
When Sandra’s husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) turns violent one too many times, she decides that she must leave him, taking her two young daughters to try and find stable housing elsewhere. Due to the lack of any social housing in Dublin she finds herself searching for alternative solutions to her problems: despite having no background or experience in building she sets to work with the goal of a self-build, with help from her empathetic employer, Peggy (Harriet Walter) and a considerate construction worker, Aido (Conleth Hill).
Director Phyllidia Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) does a masterful job of bringing Sandra’s experiences together into an immensely watchable and frequently touching narrative, juggling various storylines effortlessly but without losing any of the weight and struggle of the protagonist’s chaotic life. Herself also recognises the struggle of Sandra’s daughters, played impressively by Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann, who are still expected to dutifully spend their weekends with their father.
Herself had me on the edge of my seat throughout its runtime, with every small accomplishment feeling like a huge win as Sandra skirts around the edges of what is permissible, omitting the support she is receiving as she fills out welfare forms and furtively setting to work on the self-build on the weekends. While certain aspects may seem a little too aspirational at times by highlighting the injustices Sandra faces as both a woman and mother in poverty. Lloyd illustrates how small, positive changes should not be out of reach in an even slightly fairer society.
Herself boasts a wonderful ensemble cast which gives the whole feature a strong sense of community. Dunne is excellent as a woman who remains determined to do what she can for her family despite numerous setbacks. There is also the added poignancy that, despite Sandra’s determination and entrepreneurial spirit, none of her efforts would come to fruition if it were not for the generous actions of a wealthy patron with land to spare. With an impressively intricate script and excellent performances, Herself is a compelling drama, simultaneously heart-rending and uplifting.
Herself in in cinemas from 10th September 2021.