Phyllida Lloyd’s film Herself finally got its theatre release the week before last. Although I should probably say “Clare Dunne’s film Herself” because it isn’t right to attribute a film only to its director. A feature film is a huge collaborative effort of course, and should never really be attributed to one person. In the case of Herself, though, if it is anyone’s, it is Clare Dunne’s.
Dunne has a spate of roles to her name, including an appearance in the 2019 Marvel film Spider-Man: Far From Home, but Herself is her first writing credit. Watching it, you would find that hard to believe. It is a film that is poignant, engaging and well-paced.
From hearing the plot – “A young mother escapes her abusive husband and fights back against a broken housing system. She sets out to build her own home and in the process rebuilds her life and re-discovers herself.” – you’d be forgiven for thinking that Herself might be overly-sentimental. Add to that the fact that Phyllida Lloyd is best-known for directing (in this reviewer’s opinion) one of the best feel-good films of the 21st century; Mamma Mia! But no, Herself, while sentimental at times, doesn’t avoid the realities of the trauma of an abusive relationship.
Brilliant performances from Dunne, Harriet Walter, Molly McCann and Ruby Rose O’Hara are what helps Herself find that balance between sentimentality and honesty.