In the blockbuster movie era in which we live, smaller films can often get overshadowed. While superhero and action movies certainly have their place, not many of them prioritize storytelling over spectacle. For that kind of thing, movie lovers still have to rely on filmmakers who desire to tell a simple story and tell it well, as is the case with Herself.
The film stars Clare Dunne as Sandra, a mother of two young girls who manages to escape an abusive relationship with her ex, Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson). Unfortunately, she still has to share custody with him and can barely make ends meet working two different jobs. She longs for a home for her and her girls to call their own, but that kind of thing seems as far away as the moon.
That is until Sandra discovers a way to build her own cheap, small home, and Peggy (Harriet Walter), who employs Sandra as a cleaner, offers up not only her back garden as a plot, but a loan to get her started. Through sheer force of will and some help from unexpected sources, Sandra’s dream slowly starts to take shape.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!, The Iron Lady) and written by Dunne and Malcolm Campbell, the film is straightforward in its storytelling but never simplistic. The film is always on Sandra’s side, as she is obviously doing her best to keep herself and her kids safe, even when both the legal and government system sometimes seem to conspire against her.
On the surface, there’s nothing special about the story, although it’s one that deserves to be told more often than it does. But it’s the way that Lloyd, Dunne, and almost everyone involved treats the material that makes it stand out, giving the film the weight that it needs while never bogging it down in things it doesn’t.
The female-led story is no surprise coming from Lloyd, who has made it her purpose to put women at the forefront of her projects. Both Dunne and Walter have starred in all-female casts of Shakespeare productions Lloyd has done, and their familiarity with each other pays rich dividends here.
Dunne, who’s making her debut as a screenwriter, does the story justice with both her script and acting abilities. She portrays Sandra as harried and exhausted, but also as someone with enough strength to always do what’s right. Walter uses her long history of supporting roles to great effect, acting as the ideal role model and support system for Sandra.
Herself is the type of story that needs the right touch to elevate from its basic premise, something that both Lloyd and Dunne seem to have. It’s an uplifting start to the 2021 movie year, perhaps portending even better things to come.
Herself is playing in select theaters. It debuts on Amazon Prime Video on January 8.