Their efforts are admirable, but as they block the light they shortchange the few preciously good moments in the lives depicted.
We can perhaps agree that most people are the worst, but it’s the exceptional
humans that make life worth the endless struggle.
Irish director Phyllida Lloyd’s
latest film Herself is devastating and depressing, and its small spikes
of hope always teeter on the edge of futility. But the charity and altruism of decent people shine through. It’s a harsh but beautiful journey.
(Clare Dunne) is the selected sufferer, a mother to two girls, working two
jobs, and wife to a man who hits her. He, Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), one
day politely asks his kids to step outside. As one of them exits, Sandra
whispers ‘Black Widow’. The girl runs for help, without exactly knowing why, as
her father fractures her mother’s hand.
Sandra manages to move out, suffering ordeal after ordeal – existing in the unjust
state of joint custody. Dunne, who also wrote the screenplay with Malcolm
Campbell, breathes those fears and traumas onto the screen: building, building, building
inside Sandra to a near-avalanche of violent flashbacks. Each time she drops
the girls at their dad’s, your heart sinks. But she has no choice: those are
the legal terms.
They stay in a cheap apartment, near an airport. They're not
allowed to enter through the glossy front entrance. It’s a small space, but
they manage – helped along by a Women’s Aid charity worker, Sandra’s first
ally. But soon, she has an idea engendered from her daughter’s fairy story: to
build a house, a refuge that Mark won’t find.
a strange and fanciful idea, but as she thinks about it more, and watches
instructional videos on YouTube, she finds the confidence to pursue it. A
gaggle of friendly workers forms over the course of the film, providing its magic,
its soul. The elderly rich doctor Peggy, sharply played by Harriet Walter (Killing Eve),
finances the project. The grandfatherly builder Aido, a reluctant but warm Conleth
Hill (Official Secrets, Game of Thrones), organises the construction with a growing team of non-professionals.
After enduring a grey world where joy and kindness are fantastical, these moralistic
scenes pick flowers from the ashes. This critic shed some happy tears during
the building montages, especially as Sia’s Titanium pumps along to that
day’s accomplishment. These music cues and their perfect synchronicity recalls
Lloyd’s most famous film credit: the Mamma Mia! movie. The two films
couldn’t be more different, which demonstrates Lloyd’s exceedingly wide
range as a director.
Horgan produces the film via her company Merman, another in a long string of
female-driven stories (including Aisling Bea’s wonderful comedy-drama This Way Up). Dunne and Campbell’s script skirts the feel of a charity advert, on the whole avoiding shoehorned speeches. That's with the exception of one line, towards the end, which strikes such an honest chord that it doesn't feel like an appeal.
Herself demolishes and rebuilds your faith in
humanity. It’s strangely feel-good, but only after a lot of past and present torment.
It’s careful, also, to never secure complete comfort for Sandra. She has many issues still to sort out, and they don't just all disappear. But hope in others will keep her going, and hope is worth
Reviewed at the London Film Festival 2020. The LFF release for Herself is Thursday 8 October. The general release is coming soon.
|What||Herself (2020) film review|
08 Oct 20 – 09 Oct 20, LFF RELEASE
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|