By Shauna Stanley
Herself is a new Irish film recently released in Australian cinemas on 1 July. Herself follows young mother Sandra (Clare Dunne) as she flees domestic violence and circumnavigates the Irish public housing system with the aim of building a safe home for her and her two daughters.
Herself is certainly a departure from Director Phyllida Lloyd’s previous work (The Iron Lady, Mamma Mia) but the film cannot be faulted in its accurate portrayal of the bureaucratic nature of the housing list, welfare system and the family courts. Co-written by Malcolm Campbell and lead actor Clare Dunne, the painstaking research that went into this film is evident. Dunne in particular shines as the led, and as Sandra you can feel her very real terror at the abuse perpetrated against her by Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson).
Standing in stark contrast to the accurate portrayal of government systems and Sandra’s experience of abuse, is the far fetched method by which Sandra acquires the means to build a house. Out of kindness, Sandra’s boss Peggy (Harriet Walter), a wealthy retired doctor effectively gives away a plot of land for Sandra to build her house. Given the very real terror and abuse perpetrated by Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) against Sandra, this narrative flaw is a shame. Most women fleeing domestic violence situations cannot fall back on such kindness. On a lighter note, Sandra does recruit a bunch of volunteers from a local anarchist squat who don’t believe in property rights to help her build her house, which borders on satirical.
The lingering shadow Gary casts over Sandra’s life, along with the visceral impact domestic violence and depictions of post-traumatic stress disorder makes Herself at times distressing to watch, and certainly tense throughout, but this is a testament to Dunne’s acting prowess. Even in the darkest times, there are moments of lightness, particularly in Sandra’s interactions with her two daughters; the legend of St Brigid’s cloak gets a nod during a particularly heartwarming moment. Ultimately, Herself is a powerful film which sheds light an issue too often hidden behind closed doors societal issue. This author hopes that with increased portrayals of domestic violence in mainstream media, more survivors will be able to identify situations of intimate partner abuse and feel supported to come forward and seek help.
Herself is showing nationwide. Another Irish movie focusing on family homelessness in Dublin is Rosie (2018) now showing on Australia’s SBS on Demand.
Melbourne: BUY 1 GET 1 FREE – GIVEAWAY
Thanks to @madmanfilms we’ve got 5 x Buy 1 Get 1 Free passes to giveaway to five lucky readers for a screening of Herself. Passes can be used from July 1 in participating Melbourne cinemas.
Shauna Stanley is a member of the Tinteán Editorial Collective.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.