Homelessness is a global issue that advocates seek to change and raise awareness for in many forms, including through film. Phyllida Lloyd’s “Herself” humanizes this crisis by telling the story of a newly homeless mother who struggles to navigate Ireland’s damaged housing system and preserve in building herself a new home.
The Irish drama premiered in the United States Friday on Amazon Prime after initially premiering worldwide at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The Boston Women’s Film Festival held a virtual advanced screening of the film with Amazon Studios Jan. 5. This screening was separate from their annual festival, which was held virtually last fall.
Lloyd, perhaps best known for directing “Mamma Mia!,” took a stark turn from the lighthearted, bright jukebox musical to a serious-yet-hopeful drama that has a focus on social justice. The film bears a similar weightiness to her 2011 film “The Iron Lady.”
A rise in domestic abuse and increased threats to the homeless community have resulted from the pandemic, giving “Herself” new meaning since its initial release.
The heart-wrenching movie follows single mother Sandra, played by Clare Dunne, as she escapes her abusive husband with her two daughters, only for her to find that the Dublin housing crisis leaves her without a permanent home.
Dunne not only starred in the movie, but also co-wrote the script, which she worked on for several years. Inspired by a friend’s own experience with eviction and homelessness as a single mother in Ireland, Dunne researched for the film by talking to experts such as social workers and psychologists, according to an interview with The Guardian.
The film begins with a startling scene of Sandra being beaten by her husband and the fear she and her daughters harbor from his abuse.
After escaping her abuser, Sandra lives in a hotel with her two young daughters. While busing tables and working for a doctor, Sandra is miraculously offered land to build her house on — a pivotal turning point in her story — which is where the plot takes off.
The loveable nature of Sandra’s character and community offer a heartwarming refresh from the film’s seriousness, almost transforming the journey into a coming home story. However, the movie is slow at times, particularly at the beginning, which could serve as a deterrence for viewers.
Despite the abrupt beginning scenes and hardship throughout, the film lands with a happy ending, instilling hope where there once was none.
Though the director’s fame may have been audiences’ initial attraction to “Herself,” the film stands strong on its originality and depth alone. Sandra bands together friends and strangers to help construct her home and provide for her daughters as best she can, all while facing circumstances beyond her control.
Sandra’s challenges make for a compelling story of resistance and love.
While the film tackles important societal issues, it also simultaneously downplays the reality of living without a home. Homelessness is a focus of the movie, but Sandra lives in a hotel, works two jobs and has the opportunity to build a house — the film lacks a more broad representation of this crisis.
Nevertheless, “Herself” not only highlights a woman’s persistence through multiple obstacles, but also the kindness of strangers and bonding of a community, which makes for a feel-good story.