Phyllida Lloyd’s previous two films are very polar opposite of one another. In 2008, she took us to the sun-soaked isles of Greece with ABBA song addled movie Mamma Mia! and in 2011, she worked with Meryl Streep once more for Academy Award winning biopic The Iron Lady. A musical, a drama about Margaret Thatcher and now Lloyd, almost nine years after her last film, changes speed with tender drama Herself.
Starring Clare Dunne, Herself revolves around single mother Sandra. After leaving an abusive relationship with Gary, Sandra falls into a housing system which continuously lets her down. Struggling to provide for her children, Sandra decides to buy a plot of land and rebuild her life, literally, by building her own home. All the while, Gary is pursuing sole-custody of her children, and throwing Sandra into an intense legal battle.
Herself is a moving film that depicts real life hardships and a woman who has to cut through so much red-tape in order to create a safe environment for her children. Similar to Xavier Legrand’s powerful movie Custody, the movie does depict how agonising it can be leaving an ex-partner and how an abuser can manipulate and charm everyone. The story and writing move through these frustrations with all too familiar messiness that only adds to the films hard hitting moments.
Claire Dunne, who also co-wrote the film, is absolutely brilliant. She is a power-house performer as a woman left with just scars and rallies herself and those around her to build a moment. She creates Sandra beyond victimhood and onto a person putting herself back together for the sake of her, and her children’s, future. It is a stunning centric performance and extremely gripping, the sequences with her children feeling particularly poignant.
Herself may wonder into an over-sentimental territory which can throw the dialogue and finale off-balance. From a messy and agonising film that feels real in its hardships, the ending feels just too neat to be in balance with the rest the movie.
Nevertheless, Dunne is a revelation and the feel-good aspects of the film will charm you, and show you that you can build something out of nothing. It just takes strength, and courage.