Herself offers heart-wrenching tale of hope on the big screen

REVIEW: Herself (15) (97 minutes), Cineworld Cinemas


Obviously, it’s a pretty limited field this year, but Herself is undoubtedly the finest film so far.

Directed brilliantly by Phyllida Lloyd, it’s a fairy tale which also manages to be gut-wrenchingly real – a remarkable tale of hope from the very blackest of starting points, with plenty of twists along the way.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

Co-writer and star Clare Dunne is superb as Sandra, a mum of two desperate to escape a viciously abusive husband – a woman who, as apparently is so often the case, is at her most vulnerable at the very moment she attempts to make her break.

She is brutally beaten – but certainly not in spirit. Along with her two little girls, gorgeously played by Ruby Rose O'Hara and Molly McCann, Sandra is scooped up into hotel accommodation but remains horribly low on the housing waiting list.

Which is why she takes matters into her own hands, researching how you can build your own house from scratch and assembling around her, through the warmth of her personality, precisely the band of people who might just make it happen.

Chief among her allies is Harriet Walter as Peggy, a seemingly crusty semi-invalid retired doctor whose house Sandra cleans. Peggy just happens to have the land available that Sandra needs – very convenient, maybe over convenient, but then again, everyone deserves a fairy godmother at some point in their lives.

The real obstacle is that the villain of the piece, Gary (excellent from Ian Lloyd Anderson), Sandra’s wheedling ex, is convinced he has changed – and he wants the girls back.

The result is a film which is hugely engrossing, which has you deeply invested in Sandra and in her hopes and her fears and which leaves you drained as you hope against hope that things might somehow work out for her.

It’s a superb piece of film-making – a film with a huge amount to say which it says beautifully. It is moving and important and, this year so far, it’s a film in a class of its own.

Phil Hewitt