By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Abuse is a real human problem that requires strength, courage and determination to overcome. It seriously helps if one has a strong support system to help one accomplish this. These are the main themes of an empowering film that portrays one woman’s struggles to rise above the scars and pain of an abusive relationship. Starring an incredible Clare Dunne, Herself presents a portrait of a tormented woman not only fighting a bureaucratic goverment aid program, but also the real psychological trauma that continues to haunt her as she attempts to start a new life.
Dunne stars as Sandra, a hard working mother and wife who has had enough of both the physical and psychological abuse she receives from her angry and violent husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson). When it becomes more and more apparent that Gary is getting worse, Sandra and her two daughters Molly (Molly McCann) and Emma (Ruby Rose O’Hara) escape before things escalate any further. Sandra files a restraining order against Gary and attempts to use the government assistance program for proper housing. While working two jobs, and living in a hotel, she decides that the best way to provide a nice home for her and her children is to build it herself. This proves way challenging than she originally anticipates, but with some help from friends, one of her employers (Harriet Walter) and a sympathetic builder named Aldo (Conleth Hill), she discovers that anything is possible.
Written by Malcolm Campbell, Clare Dunne and directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!, The Iron Lady), Herself proves to be a wonderful piece of empowering and emotionally moving cinema. Told from the perspective of its protagonist, the film takes the audience through the pain and obstacles Sandra must overcome to be not only a savior to herself and her children, but also a fine example to all women. As the audience follows Sandra on her uphill journey, we get to witness both the joys and satisfaction of accomplishments, but also feel the frustration and sorrow when things don’t always work out as planned. It is a very intimate experience that the writers, director and actors execute almost perfectly.
As both co-writer and star of the film, Clare Dunne shines beautifully and powerfully. Dunne gives an amazing turn that realistically expresses the various emotions Sandra is feeling throughout this process, including the mettle to fight for what she wants most. As Sandra’s more helpful employer Peggy, Harriet Walter not only serves as a generous and supportive friend, but also as a role model. Peggy is an older, retired woman who worked hard when she was younger to be come a medical doctor and still has that same unwavering pluck that she uses to help empower and focus Sandra. As the abusive husband Gary, Ian Lloyd Anderson gives a hauntingly disturbing performance.
And though the movie can be haunting and disturbing at times, the film in its entirety is a thoroughly moving portrait that is sure two win audiences over big. It is difficult not to empathize with Sandra’s struggles, and actress Clare Dunne superbly personifies this character and her plight. It is a performance I feel is deserving of some acting nominations from various movie awards. Herself is currently playing in some theaters and will be available for streaming via Amazon Prime on January 8, 2021