Herself tells an Irish story of strength and courage

Clare Dunne in Herself

Herself is the story of an abused wife and mother who searches for a way to take care of her two children on her own. This Irish drama was directed by Phyllida Lloyd. It’s streaming on Prime Video.

Herself begins with scenes of abuse between Sandra (Clare Dunne) and her husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson). Knowing it’s about to begin, Sandra sends her oldest daughter, Molly (Molly McCann), running for help by whispering the code words “black widow” to her. The younger daughter, Emma (Ruby Rose O’Hara), is hidden in a playhouse outside the room and sees her father hit her mother, pull her hair, throw her down and stomp on her hand.

Clare Dunne and Ian Lloyd Anderson in Herself

Emma is afraid of her father after that, which causes Sandra problems later on regarding the legalities of shared custody.

Sandra leaves Gary. The Irish government puts her and the girls in a hotel room. The hotel is near the airport and far from the girls’ school and Sandra’s two jobs. She works as a cleaner for Peggy (Harriet Walter). Peggy is a doctor. She needs help while recovering from a broken hip in addition to the normal cleaner duties. Sandra’s mother worked for Peggy as a cleaner for years. Sandra also works in a pub.

Sandra sees a video by an architect who says he’s designed a house a person can build by themselves for only £35,000. She asks the government to loan her the money because it costs them almost that to keep her in a hotel room for a year. That is a no go.

But Peggy sees the situation. She has a large lot and plenty of room for a small house in the back garden. She will loan Sandra the money and the plot of land.

Sandra has absolutely no idea how much hard work and how many nights and weekends it will take on top of her other responsibilities to build a house for herself and her girls. But she’s determined.

She finds help. So many people stepped up to help her for no money. They come together in a community to do something that we in America would call a barn raising. They used an Irish word in the film that meant accomplishing something as a community, but I won’t attempt to spell it.

Sandra and all the people who helped her build her house in the garden

There are many issues with the house building and with Gary. It’s not a happily ever after ending, but it is one of hope.

Written by star Clare Dunne and Malcolm Campbell, the story sings with a powerful performance by Clare Dunne. The child actors give lovely, natural performances as well. Themes around family, domestic abuse, friendship, and community hold the story together.

The take-away lines came from Sandra in court when Gary was trying to take the girls away. In one case, Sandra told the judge, “Ask better questions. Instead of asking why I didn’t leave, ask why Gary didn’t stop.”

This is certainly not a cheerful and light film. Everything in it is a struggle. But it is a story that demands your emotional investment and makes you feel every hardship and every disappointment.

Poster for Herself

Check out the trailer.

Does this look like one you’re interested in seeing?

Author: Virginia DeBolt

After many years as an educator and writer, Virginia retired from working life. She's always loved a good movie or TV show and wants to use her free time to talk about them with you now. She's Old Ain't Dead!

2 thoughts on “Herself tells an Irish story of strength and courage”

  1. Really enjoyed Herself beautiful story of bravery & courage. The love of her new friends that helped build her house was amazing. Excellent movie

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