As domestic violence cases rise amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the director Phyllida Lloyd and stars of Herself choose to tell a unique portrayal of survivors.
Writer Clare Dunne spent time at women’s shelters and with refuge groups connecting with survivors and their stories. Hearing about the potential film in the works, one woman asked Dunne to do something different. “The first thing she did was grab me by the arms and say, ‘Could you please write a story about all of us that get out the other side of it cause we’re not just victims forever?’ and I could tell that she was a woman who had been through it.” Dunne agreed and wrote a script that unintentionally convinced the team that she should play the lead role.
Also written by Malcolm Campbell, the film centers on Irish protagonist Sandra who is determined to build her own house when public services fails to relocate her family to a permanent home. The Amazon Studios feature fills audiences with a sense of hope for Sandra, who takes on every adversity her abusive ex (Ian Lloyd Anderson) and a flawed system unleashes.
“We feel like we want to get this message through the—metaphorically ’the letterbox’—but it will hopefully come into people’s homes and give them some kind of inspiration,” said Lloyd, who was moved by Dunne’s motivation to take on a new approach in covering the subject and took on role of directing a film with a budget much lower than her blockbuster past with Mamma Mia!
Do it Yourself takes on new meaning, when it comes to Sandra. She is thrust into a constant battle to stay afloat. Once she escapes an abusive home, government resources prove useless in helping her obtain permanent relocation. Not to mention, courts question her credibility as a parent and whether she was actually abused at all. She tries to thwart threats to her shelter, custody of her children (Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann), and ambition. For her, the only way to get her life towards stability is to take a hammer and construct a house herself, to be her own hero.
“I think there’s also like an archetype of ‘the battered woman’…but have we ever seen that woman go beyond that in her journey and what happened to her next?” said Clare Dunne.
But Sandra is definitely no superhuman. Herself’s crew made sure of that. Her humanity is kept intact as audiences watch her in an emotional rollercoaster toeing the line of reality. The film is about an unfleeting resilience that allows Sandra to manifest change beyond circumstances. It is inspirational without being fantastical, continually happy-go-lucky, or a fairytale. Storm after storm smashes into the protagonist’s world. And she keeps getting up.
That determination also encourages her to reach out to community members and contacts. One such helper, Peggy, is a woman who has known Sandra and her late mother for years. Peggy (Harriet Walter) offers her the land to build her next home. The rest of the construction team is comprised of amateurs led by contractor Aido (Conleth Hill).
Herself is currently showing in select theaters. At-home movie lovers can catch the Amazon premiere on Jan. 8, 2021. Check out the trailer below.