This film was previously reviewed in October 2020 as part of our London Film Festival coverage.

Phyllida Lloyd’s Herself is a heartfelt tear-jerker that manages to reckon with the violence of a system that tries to quantify someone’s humanity. The story centres on Sandra, who is living in cramped, temporary accommodation with her two daughters after fleeing her abusive marriage. Eventually, Sandra decides that the only way forward is to build her own home from scratch. The metaphor is trite, but the emotion is honest.

Sandra faces a system that seeks to diminish her personhood. She is perpetually paralysed by the intangibility of her social worker’s promises, incapacitated by having a potential council home snatched away.

Unfortunately, the film’s brazen emotion has diminishing returns. The bleakness in this story is no doubt reflective of a harsh reality, but it also proves to be emotionally exhausting when squeezed into a 90-minute space. Occasionally, moments that are supposed to be evocative of strong feelings feel diluted down and start to become disengaging.

Despite this, the heated turbulence of Herself is delivered by remarkable performers. Clare Dunne, as the film’s protagonist Sandra, infuses hope and focus into every moment. At every juncture in the plot, she struggles to stay afloat, faced with people’s steely indifference in the face of her vulnerable desperation. Her determination to carve out space in a city that is determined to force her out is inspiring.

Similarly, Harriet Walter provides an impassioned sturdiness. She is equal parts kind and determined, effectively acting as the engine that drives this plot forward. Her easy chemistry with Dunne is the ground from which the rest of this story springs.

Herself is a moving story of survival. While it is occasionally transparent and predictable, it’s aided by a pervading sense of kindness which is made real by the standout performances.



CAST: Clare Dunne, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill

DIRECTOR: Phyllida Lloyd

WRITERS: Malcolm Campbell, Clare Dunne

SYNOPSIS: Sandra leaves her abusive marriage and decides to build a house for family.