LFF 2020 ‘Herself’ Review: Home is Where the Heart is

Sandra is fleeing domestic violence with her two children. Placed into a hostel and a waiting list that will get her housing in four years or so, she decides to take the initiative and build a home for herself and her small family. But if discovered she will lose the means to support the girls, so she must keep the project secret from the services intended to support her and from her ex-partner who still has visitation rights with her children.

Director Phyllida Lloyd is best known for guilty pleasure Mamma Mia! and the pulpy and problematic Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady. In both instances she directed films that were easy for the public to digest but offered fairly little in terms of real substance and genuine emotional stakes. Herself is a very welcome change of pace in this regard. Lloyd is able to slow her camera and really get to the heart of her subjects. It’s still a fairly straight forward tale of endurance and triumphing over adversity, but it plays it’s cards well and is very emotionally affecting.

The film doesn’t shy away from the harder edges of it’s story. Scenes of domestic violence and emotional abuse are difficult to watch but not overplayed. The abusive character is a little more complex than similar dramas may portray, but the motives behind his anger a little cliched and unexplored. However this is not a story about the partner, it’s about Sandra and for the purposes of her story, the partner plays the dragon role well.

Though perhaps a little too sentimental and neat, Herself is a wonderful story of a community bypassing uncaring bureaucracy and a woman finding the strength to face her trauma and create a new life for herself and her family. Sandra is in fact not by “herself” but is supported by all the good people in her life and there is something very sweet about this simple narrative of salvation through good work and belief.

Four Stars

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