LFF 2020 film review: Herself
Ivan Radford | On 08, Oct 2020
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Cast: Clare Dunne, Harriet Walker, Conleth Hill
Watch Herself online in the UK: London Film Festival
Herself is streaming online and screening in cinemas as part of the 2020 London Film Festival. For more on how the festival works, click here.
Hope. It’s something we could all do with a little of right now. Phyllida Lloyd’s third film is a rousing, inspiring drama about one woman refusing to give up on it – a tale of resilience and independence. It follows Sandra (Clare Dunne), a mum who’s struggling to find a safe space to raise her two daughters. And so she comes up with a plan: build the family home she needs herself.
The title is an empowering declaration of resolve, one that’s spurred on by the flashbacks to the horrible domestic abuse that Sandra has endured at the hands of her husband, Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson). The system, full of bureaucracy and devoid of compassion, fails to support her, with long waits for council housing and a judge who doesn’t care what she’s been through. Written by Dunne, in collaboration with Malcom Campbell, the film is deeply personal, awash with empathy and understanding for Sandra’s traumatic experience, and that sincere tone is echoed by Lloyd’s intimate camerawork.
The cast, too, bring heaps of open-hearted camaraderie to the screen, from Harriet Walter as Peggy, the woman whose house Sandra cleans, to Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann as Sandra’s enthusiastic, irrepressible kids. An unrecognisable Conleth Hill is superb as a builder who is grudgingly helpful.
But this is Dunne’s film and no mistake. Having worked with Lloyd on her excellent Donmar Shakespeare trilogy, the trust the duo share is evident in every inch of Dunne’s physical performance, from the way she looks and walks to the burden she visibly carries on her shoulders. It’s a note-perfect turn that deserves all the awards going, filled with vulnerability, anger and pain without ever becoming melodramatic, and capable of modulating into upbeat joy and happiness without ever becoming saccharine.
Lloyd ensures things don’t run too smoothly, and there are heartbreaking moments even when things seem to be taking a turn for the better, but the vibrant, colourful film never loses sight of the hope that drives it – a hope that Sandra finds rooted in herself and those around her.
Herself premieres at 5.50pm on 8th October in cinemas and is available to stream on BFI Player at 6.30pm. Book a ticket here.