Single mother Sandra (Clare Dunne) works as a cleaner (and, informally, a carer) for a doctor while also trying to provide for and care for her two young daughters. Afraid but fiercely determined, she decides to leave her abusive husband, Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), and push back against the broken housing system. Alongside friends and a community of volunteers, Sandra sets about building her own house, all while in a brutal custody battle with her ex.
‘Herself’ opens with Sandra’s two little girls applying makeup on their mother’s face. Sandra has a birthmark and a really sweet story she tells the girls about it. They dance around and sing “Chandelier” by Sia, but the innocence and joy of the scene is suddenly disrupted by Gary bursting in and beating Sandra while the girls hide. Gary even breaks Sandra’s wrist, and upon noticing that one of her daughter’s has been watching everything, Sandra makes the courageous move to leave with the girls.
This isn’t the end of the abuse either as Gary keeps trying to emotionally manipulate Sandra to come back to him. Your heart breaks for Sandra, who is tempted to go back, but knows this way of living is no good for her or her children. Clare Dunne’s talent is undeniable and she delivers a phenomenal lead performance. We feel her highs and her lows, in the emotional rollercoaster that is her determination to be a good mother while also trying to forge a new and alternative lifestyle.
‘Herself’ could almost be based on a true story as you know these characters and this story so well. The housing system is such that it’s impossible to buy a house or find somewhere affordable and efficient for a family to rent in a saturated market. It’s a movie that renews your faith in humanity as you see people join in to help this woman realise her humble dream, which is ultimately really for her daughters.
Young actresses Molly McCann and Roby Rose O’Hara are so sweet here while Conleth Hill of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame is great too. You’re immediately drawn to him as he fervently sticks up for Sandra. Also of note is the powerful court scene of the film’s third act, which serves to highlight the injustices directed at domestic abuse victims.
‘Herself’ is a humble movie in many ways, and in that way the story mirrors the characterisation of our heroine. You’re not left with any easy answers.