MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Herself - In Theaters and Amazon Prime Streaming
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Starring Clare Dunne, Harriet Walter
Often when you find yourself trapped in a dangerous place, the first thing you need to do is leave. Then, you need to decide what to do next.
In the opening scene of Herself, Sandra (Dunne) is enjoying a time of play with her two young daughters (Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann). The girls are putting watercolor “makeup” on their mother’s face and then dancing joyfully together to “Chandelier”. But then Dad (Ian Lloyd Anderson) barrels into the house and all hell breaks loose. One daughter hides in an outside playhouse while the other runs to a nearby shop to have them call the police. By the time the cops arrive, Sandra has suffered some broken bones and a battered face.
Sandra and her girls find temporary apartment housing through Ireland’s social services and a period of separation from Gary. But Sandra’s hard living life is just beginning to get a lot harder. She works two service jobs to make ends meet – as a waitress in a local pub at night and as a housecleaner for Peggy (Walter), a retired doctor who once had Sandra’s late mother as a housecleaner and who is also recovering from hip surgery.
Finding housing is a fool’s errand, with long lines of the working poor waiting for just a handful of available flats. Sandra sees another possible option when she watches an internet video with plans for building a DIY house. All Sandra needs to pull this off is the building site, materials, volunteer helpers, and the funds to make it all happen. And she needs to keep this secret from social services (who will stop her temporary housing) and her abusive husband.
There is a lot going on in this film, but with a great script (cowritten by Dunne herself), winning performances by a large cast, and a knowing sense of government bureaucracies, domestic abuse, and visitation rights, all of the parts work together to create an inspirational and moving story. So many of the details about small home construction using volunteers brought back personal memories of mine when I was working with Habitat for Humanity.
I am a sucker for any film that involves a ragtag bunch of strangers coming together for a higher purpose, but then I grew up with stories about Jesus. Herself is not without some major plot contrivances, but because it never minimizes the pain and the struggle in the journey, most of its victories are hard won at least and temporary at best. But over time, love finds a way. This is the first memorable film of 2021 and highly recommended.
Note: The film is in English, but some of the various brogues had me clicking on the subtitles. Do yourself a big favor and learn how to use this feature at home. Captions also come in handy when watching any movie with loud explosions and bombastic music (I’m talking to you, Hans Zimmer!).
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A stirring film that celebrates the power of community and parental love.
Three pitchforks: Scenes of physical and emotional abuse; smoking and alcohol use; strong swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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