Starting Over

Herself is one of those films that fell victim to multiple pandemic-related delays, but it’s finally here – and it’s been saved for a well-deserved cinematic release. The script comes courtesy of Ackley Bridge creator Malcolm Campbell and Clare Dunne, who takes the lead as Sandra, a single mother in Dublin who has two young daughters (Molly McCann, Ruby Rose O’Hara). When the film opens, she’s made a break from her abusive husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), who beat her after he discovered a stash of money she’d saved to get away from him.

Now she’s living in temporary accommodation, a grim-looking airport hotel, but she’s determined to find a better life for her and the kids. A proud woman, she earns money by cleaning tables in a bar and by assisting Peggy (Harriet Walter), a doctor who is laid up at home with a broken hip. And it is Peggy who ultimately offers her a way out of her situation – giving her a plot of land at the back of her house. Sandra’s plan, after watching some YouTube videos, is to build her own home.

As far-fetched as it sounds, Sandra is soon benefitting from the kindness of strangers, including Conleth Hill’s builder Aido, who fortunately has the experience to help her. Just this description lends the film an aura of a fairytale, but Herself never forgets the very real origins of the story. At a certain point, Gary tries to get custody of the children through the law courts, leading to a harrowing subplot that shows just what women caught in abusive relationships often face.

Dunne pours her heart and soul into her performance, and it’s her commitment to the part that is the reason to watch. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who is known for bigger scale movies like Mamma Mia! and The Iron Lady, keeps things ticking over here nicely, enough so that the film’s more outlandish moments don’t stick in the throat. Even despite a final act moment that will leave you shocked, Herself makes you believe in the value of human kindness that little bit more.

Herself is available in cinemas from 10 September. For more details, click here.

James Mottram