“Herself” is an Inspirational Irish film about Sandra (Clare Dunne), a loving mother to two young daughters who’s also a badly abused wife. Sandra finally flees with the girls, but they struggle to find a home outside of temporary shelters while she holds down two minimum wage jobs. Their government’s housing assistance programs are so badly overloaded that Sandra and her girls must wait three years for a hearing.
A bedtime story by her daughter inspires Sandra to search online for information about building her own affordable small house. Sandra cleans house for a prosperous doctor, Peggy (Harriet Walter), just as her mother did before her. When Peggy learns of her dream, she is touched by the young woman’s dedication to her daughters, and offers space in her backyard for the build.
Thanks to the kindness of friends like Peggy, but primarily due to her own grit, things start to turn around for Sandra. She meets Aido, a semi-retired building contractor (Conieth Hill), and persuades him to oversee building her small house. The gruff but kindly Aido molds the unskilled volunteers into a team of workers, and the house begins to take shape.
This part of the film is a happy interlude, with an assortment of people showing up to help Sandra build a new home. There is singing, laughter, and a wonderful feeling of community. There are also a few scrapes, such as when Sandra’s youngest daughter is accidentally injured at the site. This joyful interlude screeches to a halt when Sandra’s possessive ex-husband (Ian Lloyd Anderson) files for custody of their daughters. Overwhelmed by government red tape and court hearings, Sandra wonders, “what good is a house without my girls?”
I thoroughly enjoyed “Herself,” although a shocking plot twist toward the end of the film left me reeling. But everyone in the cast, including Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann as Sandra’s daughters, was terrific. Irish actress Clare Dunne not only turns in a virtuoso performances as Sandra, she also co-wrote the script with Malcolm Campbell (What Richard Did).
“Herself” Director Phyllida Lloyd
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!, The Iron Lady), the film also stars Harriet Walter (Star Wars: Episode VII–The Force Awakens, Killing Eve, Succession) and Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones, Dublin Murders).
Amazon Studios’ “Herself” is by Merman Films, Element Pictures, BBC Films, British Film Institute, and Screen Ireland, and produced by Rory Gilmartin, Ed Guiney and Sharon Horgan. Cinematographer is Tom Comerford, with costumes by Consolata Boyle. Production designer is Tamara Conboy, and Natalie Holt composed the score for “Herself,” which was shot on location in Dublin, Ireland. The film is a drama, rated R for language and some domestic violence, and runs 97 minutes. “Herself” opened in theaters Dec. 30, and will start streaming Jan. 8.