Review: Family drama 'Herself' a stirring tale of motherhood
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Helmed by acclaimed filmmaker Phyllida Llyod (“The Iron Lady”), “Herself” is a stirring, Irish family drama about recovery that tackles domestic violence with a soft, approachable lens. Written by Malcom Campbell and star Clare Dunne, “Herself” oozes with affection about a community banding together to help someone in need. Considering how nasty and cruel the world can be, “Herself” brandishes a certain degree of optimism that suggests compassion always trumps fear.
Sandra (Dunne) and her two daughters Molly (Molly McCann) and Emma (Ruby Rose O’ Hara) are happy when they’re together. Made apparent by the opening scene, Sandra loves her kiddos, and they spend mornings laughing, giggling, and dancing to “Chandelier” by Sia in their Dublin countryside home. That lively and energetic feeling subsides when Sandra’s husband Gary (Ian Llyod Anderson) enters the picture. He tells the girls to play outside while he talks to mom, but not before Sandra whispers a code word to young Molly who sprints across town to alert the police her mother is getting viciously attacked. From there, Lloyd’s film picks up in the aftermath with Sandra pulling three jobs as a single parent and trying to secure housing outside of government subsidiaries.
But it’s that spirit and tenacity that sparks her big ambition: taking a small plot of land given to her by an old family friend and building a home for herself and the kids. The home won’t be a mansion by any means, but it’ll have a roof and four walls. Sandra comes up with a strict, cost-saving budget and ropes a local contractor and some pals to help build on the weekends. The questionable amount of folks who come to Sandra’s aid notwithstanding, “Herself” glistens with a wonderous, DIY attitude about a woman doing anything for her children. As the fractured mother who never takes a mental break, Dunne is quite the marvel, and what’s better, her character doesn’t get bogged down with a forced love interest. Sure, the journey of redemption is one giant cliche (plus the big climatic reveal hits like a sack of bricks), Dunne never loses sight of the objective and overcomes genre mechanics.
Equally terrific is Harriet Walter, who plays Peggy, the old family employer helping Sandra with housing funds. In particular, during a rough court battle that sees Sandra at her lowest, Walter swoops in with hard-hitting words of affirmation. We know Sandra is a good mother, but hearing Peggy lay out the specifics reminds us this is a character worth believing in. Unlike other inspirational narratives about redemption, “Herself” doesn’t go the easy route. Lloyd discusses the terrible Dublin housing system, and showcases how abusive fathers can retain custody of their children (which is also a problem in the United States) and paint nuterting mothers as the instigators. It’s not easy having those conversations, and “Herself” handles the material with an emphatic grace and reminds us life shouldn’t be taken for granted.
HERSELF will debut on Amazon Prime Video Friday, January 8th 2021