Herself review – a domestic abuse survivor​’s tale in search of the right tone

The British director Phyllida Lloyd adds a spritz of commercial glitter to this bleak story about a domestic abuse survivor navigating Dublin’s housing crisis. Sandra (Clare Dunne) is separated from her violent, manipulative husband, Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), and temporarily homeless, shuffling their two young daughters (Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann) between grotty hotels provided by the state. When she learns of a help-to-build housing scheme, Sandra sets about finding the €35,000 needed to construct a new life from the ground up. It’s perhaps not so surprising that the woman behind Mamma Mia! and Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady would see the narrative’s fairytale potential.

Cue an upbeat montage of Sandra working two jobs and researching floor plans on a library computer. She befriends a retired builder in the queue at a DIY store. Peggy (Harriet Walter), a wealthy woman whose house she has cleaned for years, offers her a plot of land. David Guetta and Sia’s girlpower anthem Titanium plays as she dons a hard hat and borrowed boots, just one of many gratingly literal soundtrack choices.

Sandra’s tidy arc of female empowerment is interrupted by PTSD-induced flashbacks to the abuse she has suffered. Dunne, who also co-wrote the script, brings admirable grit and pathos to her character without allowing her to become a victim. Still, the film’s abrupt tonal shifts are jarring.

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