Herself (2020): A Woman Builds a Home, Clare Dunne Builds Her Career

“Herself” is directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!, The Iron Lady) and stars Clare Dunne (Spider-Man: Far From Home, The Cherishing), who also happens to have a story and writing credit for the film. Also in the cast we have Harriet Walter (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rocketman) and Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones, Suits) in a film about a woman named Sandra who wants to escape an abusive relationship with her husband. In a revolt against a broken system, Sandra vies to build a house so she can ensure safety for herself while raising two daughters.

“Herself” is a film that I’ve heard about for over a month, but when it comes to movies on Prime, the one that has been getting all the buzz lately is “One Night in Miami,” which I tried. I really wanted to like it, but it did not sit well with me, and I say that as someone who saw it twice. It had some good performances though between Leslie Odom Jr. and Kingsley Ben-Adir, it just was not my favorite film that I have seen in recent memory. Although when it comes to “Herself,” that has been getting a lot less attention. Less people have seen it, and I say this as someone who lives in the U.S., there is a chance that a film like “Herself” is automatically going to get less attention as it is primarily produced by British and Irish companies, and the film itself takes place in an Irish background. I say this despite knowing that the director did “Mamma Mia!,” which is popular among a number of crowds, and the fact that she even directed Meryl Streep to win one of her Academy Awards. The film did however premiere at Sundance, and soon thereafter Amazon bought the rights to it. This is where we are today. The film is available for free on Prime, so I thought I would give it a go.

What did I think? Let me just start off by saying that if one studio has been consistently solid for me throughout the year, it would have to be Amazon. Granted, their business model for releasing films has increased in prominence given the current pandemic, but for the most part, they’ve been cranking out good movie after good movie.

Well, except “My Spy.” Can’t believe it took five months after a press screening and a studio exchange for me to talk about that crap!

But let’s consider what Amazon has done this year. “The Vast of Night,” “Radioactive,” “Sound of Metal,” “I’m Your Woman.” All these films are worth watching. I’d say that “Herself” stands amongst these solid movies, although if I had to pick one to go back and watch again, I’d pick “Sound of Metal” before this one. “Herself” is a wonderful, charming, occasionally gritty, and somewhat motivating film. Before I saw this movie, I did not know much about it, therefore I had no idea that one of the writers of the film happens to be the star. I think that is why I’ll say Clare Dunne gives one of my favorite performances I have seen in recent memory.

When it comes to the brilliant performance from Clare Dunne, you can tell there is a bit of a personal touch to it. In fact, there actually is, because Dunne points out in an interview that when she was auditioning in New York during pilot season, a friend reached out to her saying she lost her home in Dublin. At that point, Dunne looked up Dominic Stevens, who self-built a home in Ireland for €25,000. At that point, Dunne thought she should make a movie about a single mother who goes through a similar situation. I think Dunne hit the mark hard on this film. I think her performance partially benefits from her having a writing credit, meaning that she probably had more time to envision her character and how it should be, and I would say that maybe aside from Ben Affleck’s performance as Jack Cunningham in “The Way Back,” Clare Dunne’s performance as Sandra may be the most personal portrayal of 2020. She has moments of happiness, delight, anger, despair, sadness, her role is diversified of emotions and Dunne gives herself plenty of things to do. Given how the Golden Globes were announced and Dunne did not appear on the list, I doubt Dunne is going to get the awards potential she deserves, but I think I will look back on this performance for a long time.

While the screenplay of the film may not end up being my #1 of the year, I cannot deny that it is fantastic at times. The film starts off and gets straight to the point. It does not waste much time, it introduces our characters, and goes licketdy split into our main conflict. Part of me was already on the edge of my seat and ready to see where this journey would go next. I knew who to root for, who to bash on, all of it. Everything was quickly set up in just a matter of one to two minutes. When it comes to set up, “Herself” is perfect.

I will say though, the film did nearly lose me at times. Granted, it is an intimate project with a smaller budget, but there are select moments where I nearly doze off. There are also moments where I got my head back in the game, but it does not make me forget the times where I almost snoozed. Pacing could have occasionally been better, but the film is still a good time.

Actually, you know what? It’s not a good time. It’s a great time. I say that because the film ends with a subversion of my expectations. I will not go into much detail, but it is a contender for the best ending of 2020. Not only because it comes out of nowhere and changes the entire pace of the movie, but because it balances a bunch of emotions at once. In a short description, it is kind of bittersweet. I will not say anything else because I want to leave all my readers as blind as possible, because that is practically how I went into “Herself.” Watch it, you might not regret it.

In the end, “Herself” is a charming story that highlights abuse, how one wants to get past it, and ways in which one can build a better life. Clare Dunne is a performer that I now have my eyes on. I think in the future, we will be hearing her name a lot more. I think she has the potential to build her career similar to the way her character attempted to build a house. Would I watch this film again? Not right away, but give it some time, and I may come back. Phyllida Lloyd crafted a fine film, and I am happy to have seen it. I am going to give “Herself” a 7/10.

“Herself” is available exclusively on Prime Video for all subscribers.

Thanks for reading this review! Today I just saw “Nomadland,” which is going to be out on Hulu February 19th, and it will simultaneously debut in theaters wherever they are open. Although for the next week or two, you can catch the film in select IMAX theatres. I saw it in IMAX today and cannot wait to talk about it. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account, and check out the Facebook page to stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “Herself?” What did you think about it? Or, have you ever built a house? Tell me what that was like. Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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