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FILM OF THE WEEK: Herself

MARIA DUARTE recommends a shocking and turbulent film about a mother’s struggle to escape her abusive husband and build a new home for her family

Herself (15)
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

A SINGLE mother of two embarks on a gruelling journey to escape her abusive partner and protect her daughters as she takes on the bureaucracy of the broken housing system in this uplifting yet heartbreaking drama, penned by actor turned writer Clare Dunne.

Set in Dublin, the film opens with a young woman (Dunne) dancing and singing with her two little girls (an impressive Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann) to Sia’s rousing Chandelier before swiftly turning into a brutal horror show as their father arrives and viciously beats their mother and smashes her hand. This scene continually haunts Sandra (Dunne) and her youngest daughter Molly (McCann), who secretly witnessed it.

Inspired by a friend who was left homeless with her children, Dunne co-wrote the script with Malcolm Campbell (What Richard Did). Under the sensitive direction of Phyllida Lloyd (the Iron Lady and Mamma Mia!) Dunne delivers a powerhouse performance as Sandra who, tired of living in temporary council accommodation (an airport hotel room) with her kids, has the ingenious idea to self-build an affordable house.

She turns to the council for assistance, but the staff’s lack of political will to do the right thing is evident when presented with a foolproof plan. Instead Peggy (a standout Harriet Walter), the woman for whom she cleans, offers her some land and a building contractor (Conleth Hill) is happy to help out too, alongside a motley group of acquaintances and strangers who are also eager to pitch in. As they say, it takes a village.

But her ex Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) continues to make her life hell by dragging her into court for breach of access and wrongly paints her as a bad mother. She quite rightly asks the judge why she is being grilled over why she didn’t leave him sooner, while no-one asks him why he didn’t stop beating her.

It is a powerful study of survival, the human spirit and the kindness of people — which still exists — alongside the intransigence of local government bureaucracy, and ends in a shocking finale which shows that hope will prevail. 

Maria Duarte 
In cinemas

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