Review: Herself — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Herself reminds us that an admirable mix of personal pluck and community selflessness can go a long way to helping ease the trauma of a world gone askew.

Clare Dunn in Herself (Pat Redmond courtesy Amazon Studios
Clare Dunn in Herself (Pat Redmond courtesy Amazon Studios

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!

SUPPORT THE POST

Herself

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rating: R

Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
Cast: Clare Dunn, Harriet Walter, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Conleth Hill)

Writers: Malcolm Campbell, Clare Dunn

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Streaming on Amazon Prime

Have you ever had one of those years when nothing seemed to go right; when every day seemed to bring more bad news than the last; when hope seemed tantalizingly close, yet frustratingly out of reach?

Oh, yeah…I guess we all just did. But so does the central character of the stirring new film, Herself — and COVID-19 has nothing to do with it. What’s more, just like we all discovered in 2020, Herself reminds us that an admirable mix of personal pluck and community selflessness can go a long way to helping ease the trauma of a world gone askew.

British director Phyllida Lloyd has made a career of crafting big-budget, empowering stories about formidable women (Mamma Mia!, The Iron Lady). She’s in fine form here painting on a much more intimate canvas, unfolding the inspiring saga of Sandra (Clare Dunn, who also co-wrote the screenplay), a homeless Irish mother of two.

On the run from a savagely abusive partner Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), Sandra dreams of emerging from homelessness by self-building a tiny, affordable house on a plot of land given to her by a big-hearted doctor (Harriet Walter) whose house she cleans.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for movies brimming with good people, and there’s no shortage of salt-of-the-Earthers in Herself. Besides the generous doctor, there’s the architect who gives Sandra the plans for her cozy new digs, the approaching-retirement contractor (Conleth Hill) who donates his weekends to Sarah’s cause, his cheerful and resourceful son Francis (Daniel Ryan, a charming actor with Down syndrome), and the friends and friends-of-friends who abandon their personal lives to lend a leather-gloved hand.

At the center of this constellation of kindness is Sara, portrayed by Dunn as a fiercely determined mother fighting for her children’s future even as she suffers near-debilitating PTSD from her brutal relationship (we witness a savage beating at the hands of Gary early in the film; flashbacks remind us of Sarah’s continuing trauma). At times, we share her open-mouthed disbelief at the kindness of strangers, but Sara is no Blanche DuBois — we have no doubt that even were these generous Dubliners not lining up to lend a hand, Sara would be out there in the yard toiling away all by herself until the last nail was hammered.

An unmistakable feature of the actress’s emotive face is a prominent birthmark under her left eye — and in the script that she co-wrote, Dunn makes powerful use of it. At the outset, under the violent thumb of Gary, Sara seems to wear the mark as a perpetual black eye, a pitiful emblem of her sorry state. At various points in the film she tries to minimize the mark and even, before a climactic courtroom hearing, cover it completely. But once more, the timely encouragement of a friend intervenes: By the end of the film, Sara’s birthmark is a badge of defiance: the one-time victim has not only survived life’s best shots — she has triumphed over them.

All of which makes Herself the feel-good movie of a year that, for the most part, did not feel very good at all.

Featured image: Clare Dunn in Herself (Pat Redmond courtesy Amazon Studios)

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now

Recommended

Reply

Your email address will not be published.