Herself Review – BFI London Film Festival 2020
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Starring: Clare Dunne, Harriet Walter and Conleth Hill
Clare Dunne takes DIY to a whole new level in director Phyllida Lloyd’s latest film, the Dublin set drama, Herself.
The screenplay penned by Dunne and Malcolm Campbell sees Sandra, a young mother of two, also played by Dunne, struggling to provide a permanent home for her family.
After experiencing domestic abuse from her husband Sandra escapes her dangerous home situation but is forced to await new accommodation for her and her daughters from the housing system.
Left living in hotel rooms and on an enormous waiting list for housing Sandra takes matters into her own hands, deciding that she will build a house of her own.
Showing Power through Pain
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Lloyd’s new drama is a compelling look at a woman fallen victim to her abusive husband, a broken housing system and unjust courts of law.
There is a lot going on here, and whilst its social and political commentary maybe isn’t quite as strong as it would hope it to be its depiction of domestic abuse is incredibly effective.
Herself brutally showcases the horror of domestic abuse, demonstrated in the opening scenes as its presence immediately shatters what was previously a joyous family moment.
Not only does it manage to capture the terror of the moment but it expertly includes the more long term trauma that its survivors have to carry with them long after the specific incidents of abuse have occurred.
It’s when she’s dealing with this theme that Dunne’s performance is strongest, proving her ability to add nuance to her portrayal of her character.
She delivers an incredibly powerful performance throughout the film and manages to tell the story of many voiceless women who find themselves in similar circumstances.
A Hopeful Reality
The narrative is one steeped in painful realities but it also never gives up on hope.
A soundtrack full of crowd-pleasing favourites further compliments these more hopeful moments whilst also helping with the pace of the film.
However, at times the story can feel a little far-fetched and even convenient in places, although Dunne and Campbell’s writing always remembers that it’s telling very real stories about real people and overall this authenticity keeps the film grounded.
The screenplay balances its tone well, encapsulating the unpredictability of life within the four walls of its film and it builds well on the narrative foundations that it sets early on.
This whirlwind of narrative turns coupled with Dunne’s stunning lead performance, as well as the good supporting performances; ensures that Herself will stir up a wide range of emotions in its audiences.
With the ability to shock, enrage, sadden and create joy within its viewers, the film becomes effortlessly engaging and invites us to step inside Sandra’s world, which seems to be quickly crumbling around her.
Home is Where the Heart Is
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Ultimately, Dunne has crafted a well-intentioned and touching drama through her and Campbell’s writing and her emotive performance.
Herself allows audiences a brief insight into the housing problems in Dublin, problems that are rife too in other cities across the UK and Ireland.
As well as this, it offers a glimpse into the unfair treatment of women by the law who have already been mistreated by their partners.
It is the central theme of abuse that is handled most impressively though, showing just how widespread and damaging its effects can be.
However, despite this, it has to be reinforced that this is at its heart a hopeful film and this is undoubtedly the right foundation for this story.
What do you make of this review of Herself?
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