Herself review – a resilient and empowering performance by Clare Dunne

By Marc Miller
Published: January 8, 2021
Herself review - a resilient and empowering performance by Clare Dunne


Clare Dunne gives a resilient and empowering performance in Herself.

There is something plaintively real and uncinematic about the opening scene of Herself, the new Amazon Prime Video film. A thirty-something mother is dancing around and playing with her two adorable golden-haired daughters, singing Titanium, with their hands in the air, you know, like they just don’t care. I can only assume the daughters switch singing roles of David Guetta or Sia. Though, that is not the scene I am talking about. It’s the next track as the fun is interrupted and the mood changes quickly for everyone involved.

Herself tells the story of a young mother named Sandra (Spider-Man: Far From Home‘s Clare Dunne) who lives in fear of her abusive husband Gary (Ian Loyd Anderson). He doesn’t mind stomping on his bride, even as she reaches for help when laying helpless across the cold, linoleum kitchen floor. She has her daughters Molly and Emma (played by Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann) even prepared to help as part of the plan and a warning message taped to the top of the lid of a lunchbox to show the nearest adult to come to save her. It’s a frightening and terrifying sight, watching Gary work out his anger by stomping his dirty work boot down on her wrist; you aren’t sure if the sound of her screams in pain or the crunch of her wrist is louder. Meanwhile, her daughter, looking terrified, runs for her mother’s life across an unkempt grassy field to the nearest adult while clutching her metal lunchbox; I’m honestly not sure which scene was more disheartening.

Sandra escapes from her husband’s clutches, taking government assistance and housing, while working three or more jobs seven days a week, day and night, with one good wrist. One of those jobs is cleaning and offering caregiver services to her place mother’s employer and friend, Peggy (Succession’s Harriet Walter). She catches Sandra looking up how to build her homes on her computer and offers her a chance to build a home of her own in Peggy’s lush and vacant backyard.

Dunne helped co-wrote the script with Malcolm Campbell and Sourav Kumar that’s an empowering piece of material, if not a bit of a lofty fantasy of an abused woman and mother of two being lucky enough to have a rich benefactor to let them build a house without a permit in their backyard. That, though, is used as a device to show the determination of a woman making a life for her children and the power of helping hands from her community. This includes the welcome sight of Game of Thrones‘ Conleth Hill as Aido Deveney, a bob the builder type, who hands out etiquette lessons.

Director Phyllidia Loyd (Mama Mia!) has plenty to work with in Herself. It’s a riveting performance by Dunne, showing fear early on, throughout, and then showing the strength to stand up to her abuser. Anderson’s abusive Gary is well-grounded in the sense this isn’t a movie cartoon villain. There are times he seems nice, but then you can see him seething and ready to quietly explode. It’s terribly effective. Lastly, Walter is so good here in a supporting role. It’s pitch-perfect in terms of size and effect, always having Sandra’s back when no one else will, including an unjust welfare and housing system.

Herself, while empowering, goes for more feel-good with the most altruistic people you’ll ever meet, even if Sandra bites their heads off when they are working for free. Its themes of violence against women are on point, it’s just made it easier to swallow by sugar-coating what the actual odds are that would have happened to a woman being abused (the CDC estimates 55% of women who are murdered are killed at the hands of their intimate partner). Not every abused woman gets a happy ending or even a fair one. Loyd’s film, however, is not a documentary or even great art but made engaging nonetheless by a resilient performance by Clare Dunne. 

Amazon Prime Video, Movie Reviews