2020 BFI London Film Festival Review: HERSELF

2.5 out of 5 stars

Phyllida Lloyd’s Herself is a film which doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. On one hand it would like to be a gritty Ken Loach-style drama about surviving domestic abuse and on the other it wants to be an uplifting quasi-comedy littered with feel-good pop tunes. Ultimately it’s something of disappointment, failing to be anything other than an amiable time passer – a shame because the film features a strong central performance from Clare Dunne. 

Dunne plays Sandra, a Dublin woman who flees her abusive husband (Ian Lloyd Anderson) after a particularly brutal attack. Stuck living in a hotel with her two children, she decides to build a house on land gifted to her by the elderly doctor she cleans for (Harriet Walter). Assisting her in achieving her dream is a selection of characters from the local community, all of whom dedicate their free time and resources. 

Herself works best when it’s casting a light on domestic violence and the various machinations and woes which occur when you’re caught-up in Dublin’s hellish housing system. These moments in the script (written by Dunne and co-writer Malcolm Campbell) ring true and while it might not be the most uplifting of storylines, it feels honest. The same can’t be said for the film’s comedy moments, all of which feel like they’ve been written into the script to make it more appealing to a mass audience. This isn’t helped by Lloyd’s decision to mark these scenes with obvious (and awful) needle drops.

I have no doubt that everyone went into Herself with the best of intentions, but sadly the film fails to work and you’ll be left disappointed once the end credits roll.