Total Film

Safe House

HERSELF Heartfelt Irish drama about rebuilding after abuse.


I When director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!, The Iron Lady) first became involved with Irish drama Herself, she was puzzled why the producers were discussing who to cast in the lead role of traumatise­d yet resilient young mother Sandra. “I just said, ‘What are you guys thinking about?’ It’s got to be Clare [Dunne].” Lloyd and Dunne had collaborat­ed before, and once the Dublin-born actress had shown the filmmaker her original screenplay for Herself, Lloyd was swiftly impressed.

“I was immediatel­y struck by her instinctiv­e sense of what a movie could be in relationsh­ip to words and images,” recalls Lloyd. “She had created a character in Sandra who was not a victim, and the script had a momentum and an energy and a brio and a fearlessne­ss about the relationsh­ip between dark and night… It felt as though Clare was speaking not just to those of us who feel lucky enough to feel safe in our homes, but to those women who were actually facing domestic abuse.”

Given that Lloyd’s debut feature

– the all-star musical Mamma Mia!

– grossed over $600m worldwide, shooting the modestly budgeted Herself in five weeks on locations across Dublin must have presented a very different set of challenges. “Well, I’d been looking to do a low-budget film for a long time,” she explains. “The point is there is never

enough time on a film set whether you have four months or four weeks. There’s never enough money and it’s never the right weather. By cutting away lots of technical options on Herself, I found I could concentrat­e on the essentials and work with a greater simplicity.”

Herself was completed before Covid-19 closed cinemas across the world, and in looking ahead to the film’s much delayed UK release this September, Lloyd believes its themes may now be even more resonant. “We’ve all become more conscious of how cases of domestic violence have escalated during lockdowns. And we’ve become much more conscious of who we are in relation to the community in which we are living.” TD


Clare Dunne’s Sandra seeks safety from harrowing domestic abuse (above); with daughter Molly (Molly McCann, below).
BETTER TIMES Clare Dunne’s Sandra seeks safety from harrowing domestic abuse (above); with daughter Molly (Molly McCann, below).

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