Deborah Ross

Intensely powerful: Herself reviewed

Phyllida Lloyd's latest could have been horrible. It could have been Seabiscuit, with joists and concrete mixers. But it's far from some cheesy, feelgood monstrosity

True, some of the secondary characters are barely drawn, but Clare Dunne’s performance is extraordinary

Herself is an intensely powerful film about domestic violence that isn’t Nil By Mouth or The Killer Inside Me or any of the other films that have you begging: ‘Oh, sweet Jesus, please make this stop.’ Actually, it starts like that, but then becomes something else — something that never loses sight of why we’re here but is also an uplifting tale about a woman who wants to rebuild her life by building a home. And now I’ve made it sound like some cheesy, feelgood monstrosity. Trust me, it isn’t.

Herself is produced by Sharon Horgan and directed by Phyllida Lloyd (The Iron Lady, the Mamma Mia! franchise) because women make films from top to bottom these days. Get over it. (Below-the-line commenters: I said this just to bait you. Bite if you must.) The film stars the Irish actress Clare Dunne, who co-wrote and plays the lead role of Sandra. She is married to Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) and they have two little daughters. In the opening scene Sandra is happily hanging out with the girls when Gary returns from work. The atmosphere instantly changes. He’s found a roll of cash hidden in the car, which he (rightly) assumes is Sandra’s escape money, and explodes with anger and violence. This scene is absolutely horrific to watch — ‘oh, sweet Jesus, please make it stop’ — and we know it’s not the first time it’s happened. Next, we find she has left Gary, thank God, but is living in a grim hotel room miles from her daughters’ school with little chance of being rehoused by the council.

This could have been horrible. It could have been Seabiscuit, with joists and concrete mixers

In Ken Loach’s hands this would spiral from bad to worse as Sandra negotiates the Kafka-esque government agencies.

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