It would be easy to be cynical about a movie like HERSELF but I found it to be a rather lovely hope-filled movie about basic human kindness in the face of personal harm and institutional carelessness. It stars screenwriter Clare Dunne as Sandra: a young single mother of two daughters, still haunted by the horrific physical marital violence she suffered. As the movie opens, Sandra leaves her husband and is forced to rely on the local government for housing. With so many demands on its services, she's left to an endless waiting list and temporary accommodation in a hotel. On the way, we see how nasty and overpriced private sector rental accommodation is, and how hard it is for Clare to manage all her minimum wage jobs to get by. But despite this apparently dour scenario, the movie is actually full of hope. One of the ladies that Sandra cleans for offers her a piece of land on which to build a house herself, following online instructions from a progressive architect. The odds are steep - Sandra has only her own manual labour and little knowledge of how to apply for planning permits or cut timber - but she finds a community of friends who come together to help her. Foremost among these is the wonderfully quiet and kind Aido, played by Game of Thrones' Conleth Hill. As I said before, it might be easy to be cynical about a movie that so clearly focusses on the kindness and generosity of a diverse group of friends, but this movie is not rose-tinted. It clearly shows the nastiness of domestic violence and its profound impact not just on Sandra but on her daughters. That it does so with a quiet dignity is to its, and director Phyllida Lloyd's credit. Indeed this is perhaps the quietest and most discreet of the films I have seen directed by her. It's miles away from the pantomime noise of MAMMA MIA! But it has a strength and power those films don't have. When Sandra is in court contesting the custody of her children, she is peppered with insulting questions from the lawyer and judge. She finally breaks and says "ask better questions". For other actors and directors this might have been a histrionic and grandstanding big scene, but here it's suffused with anger, yes, but also weariness and disbelief. It's all the more affecting for that.
HERSELF has a running time of 98 minutes. The film played Sundance, San Sebastian and London 2020.