Having watched so many movies recently, I’ve noticed a pattern emerging that I hope continues into next year and those that follow. Films with strong female leads, some written and directed by women, have become ubiquitous and lead female characters more prevalent.
The number of women who’ve directed major films recently is record-breaking. From ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ and ‘Promising Young Woman,’ to ‘Nomadland,’ and, of course, ‘Herself,’ women are lighting up the screen in more ways than ever. In ‘Herself,’ who better to tell Sandra’s story but a woman? Clare Dunne plays Sandra. In the past, Dunne has starred in ‘The Donmar Warehouse’s All-Female Shakespeare Trilogy,’ which is an all-female production of some of Shakespeare’s most celebrated dramas. This episodic miniseries was set in a present-day women’s prison. With that in mind, the story of a single mother with two daughters, doing what she can to liberate herself from the man abusing her, should be a walk in the park. A determined, tenacious character is what she seems most comfortable with. I say this because she actually helped write the script. The director of ‘Herself’ is Phyllida Lloyd. Lloyd previously directed ‘The Iron Lady,’ and ‘Mama Mia!,’ also with strong female characters. Making even better for the project, Lloyd had previously directed Dunne in the Shakespeare series.
‘Herself’ is set in Dublin, Ireland. With the thick accents, it’s, on occasion, hard to understand exactly what the actors are saying. But it doesn’t distract from your enjoyment of the film.
We first meet a woman playing with her two daughters and dancing to Sai’s ‘Chandelier.’ We soon become aware of the fact that having a good time isn’t allowed if her husband Gary, played by actor Ian Lloyd Anderson, has anything to do with it. When Gary sees the merriment, it sets him off. Clearly, this isn’t the first time this has happened. We see that Sandra’s young daughters know exactly what to do next and begin the process of putting a plan into action when they see Gary is about to get ugly. Molly (Molly McCann), the youngest, runs and hides; the oldest, Emma (Ruby Rose O’Hara), goes for help with a prewritten note. The encounter leaves her with a severely injured hand. She’s no longer interested in living in this situation. With words of encouragement and several jobs and what she gets from welfare, she leaves him—loving who he once made this a difficult task.
Unique to this well-worn theme of running from a domestic violence situation, Sandra doesn’t want welfare help. She desperately wants to be self-reliant and not have to rely on a home from housing assistance. Instead, a conversation with Emma springs the idea of building her own home. This notion grows, but to become more autonomous, she needs a little help. She gets that help from the female doctor’s house her mother cleaned, the job she now has.
The story then follows her journey to breaking free of the man who shoved her down, physically and mentally, and the system that wants to keep her there. She goes to welfare and explains that giving her the money to build her own home will, in the long run, not only save the country money, but they’ll make money from the deal. Even when you present them with research documenting how it behooves them to engage, she has no luck getting the government to build her an entire home from the ground up. Regardless, Sandra will crawl out from underneath this position she’s headed in, with or without permission from the state.
‘Herself’ is such an uplifting and inspiring story. See it today! The soundtrack for the film almost outpaces the movie itself. Songs from Sia, The Killers, and The Cranberries, among others, help make moving scenes all the more meaningful. The script, putting our lead actress through the wringer, is impressive. The actors involved impressively assist in moving a slowly paced drama along.
*Amazon Studios releases ‘Herself’ Prime Video January 8th, 2021.
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writers: Clare Dunne & Malcolm Campbell
Stars: Clare Dunne, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Ruby Rose O’Hara & Molly McCann
Running Time: 1h 37m