Written by: Malcolm Campbell & Clare Dunne
Starring: Clare Dunne, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill, Molly McCann, Ruby Rose O’Hara
The reasons why someone remains in an abusive relationship comes with multitudes that may be difficult to fully express but ultimately contributes to their horrifying confinement. It could be as simple as the financial ramifications involved, which may be the tip of the iceberg, but plays an integral part in the journey of this mother of two. Simultaneously heartbreaking and inspirational, Herself tests the emotional bandwidth of one mother and all of the pressures involved with getting past harmful trauma.
Stuck in an abusive relationship, a horrific event causes Sandra (Clare Dunne) to leave her husband and becomes determined to build a house for her and her daughters. With the help of former contractor Aido (Conleth Hill) and several others, she tries to build this new construct while battling with the remnants of her past refusing to go away.
Perseverance serves as the keyword for Herself and adequately captures the resounding feeling pulling this narrative forward. None of it comes easy but it displays at its height, the level of compassion people can have for each other along with how twisted the court system can be towards survivors of abuse. The film begins with Sandra and her children in their home where a level of unease rests in the space with no reason given until her husband (Ian Lloyd Anderson) brutally physically assaults her. It then exhibits how Sandra had trained her daughter to get help in the event this would happen, which then locks him up. A truly unsettling opening but also one setting the stage for what the struggle Sandra lived in and what she will need to embark on.
Trying to move on from this horrifying incident does not come as easy as she needs to wear a brace on her arm from the damage caused by her ex-husband. It proves to be lasting damage as it’s nerve damage, which unfortunately chronically bothers her, thus serving as part of the PTSD she suffers when recalling the horrifying incident. Not only does she need to keep going for her own sake, but now she needs to get a sustainable job to single-handedly support her children and must find someplace to make her home. Detailing the measures she must take in order to make this happen gets right into the inspiring aspect this film has to offer.
Building a home not only could be cost-efficient, especially with it specifically being the smaller homes with a much lower price tag. However, the major importance appears on what it can do for the children psychologically. Homes are many things but one of the characteristics should always be safety. A level of ease should perpetually be part of entering a home, which was violently taken away by the ex-husband. Building this home means so much to Sandra and she will do what it takes to ensure it can get done. This journey, however, comes with a harrowing hill to climb. As a single mother who struggles with financially providing, this film expresses the difficulties involved in trying to do it all for her children while still battling with the lingering impacts of the abuse. It’s hard enough during normal circumstances but Sandra has a large boulder on her back making things even more difficult.
The emotional stakes established in this film very much have the intention of picking at the emotions of the audience members as we sit through the horrendous treatment Sandra receives in her journey for reclaiming her life. We share in her moments of elation but also in the blood-boiling instances where the abusive husband demands to have more custody of the children. Those sequences will make you want to throw something at the screen, as intended, to display the unfair nature of the court system and how it treats a survivor like Sandra. These moments test Sandra’s resolve and strength in a way they never should but the reality of it all becomes the point of the story.
The core of the story centers right with Clare Dunne as she co-wrote and starred as Sandra. She really captures the anguish happening with this character through her script and the intense struggles that come with this terrifying situation. For the entire feature, a black eye remains on her face as a reminder of the damage, that she still needs to heal, and carries all of these emotional scenes with incredible tenacity. She teams with Phyllida Lloyd, who will always receive admiration from me for bringing Mamma Mia! to the big screen. She handles these emotional moments with the necessary care to ensure none of it feels overdone but effective enough to get the message across.
Herself allows you to see the best and worst of the human spirit in the way this mother tries to do something for her own sake and of the children. It shows the power of community and how a system meant to be impartial can be so damaging to those who do not deserve it. Certainly a film to appreciate but may be difficult to sit through in moments. However, it all comes together in such an emotionally resonant matter and will bring plenty of pride in the power of people.