THREE AND A HALF STARS Maggie leaves her abusive husband and takes her daughters into care. Now she needs a new home.
DRAMA Ireland #HERSELF
Claire Dunne, Ruby Rose O'Hara
This Ken-Loach-light drama from writer/actor Claire Dunne charts the troubles of Maggie, a Dublin woman struggling to regain her life from an abusive relationship. An unapologetically confronting opener comes with a pre-credit warning for those who might be triggered by scenes of domestic violence. A good thing too as this short but extremely sharp exchange ends with Maggie’s young daughter running for the police, fearing for her mother’s life. It transpires that the pair had practised for the likelihood of this day coming. It ends with mother and children moving into care and the husband placed under a restraining order.
This exchange serves as a driver for what follows; the light side of Loach in which Maggie decides to push forward and build a stable life for her children. She learns that she could build herself a modest home for E35,000 (the same amount that authorities would pay for a year’s rent in care), if only she could raise the money, find some land and learn how to build a house. Fortunately one of her several jobs is working for a kindly doctor who takes pity on Maggie and supports her quest. Unfortunately, Maggie’s husband doesn’t care for court orders and tragedy soon follows.
Directed with compassion by Phylida Lloyd (MAMMA MIA), she and Dunne keep their story rooted in tangible reality while avoiding the tempting proposition of mawkish sentimentality or grinding social realism. It’s a much more engaging and rewarding film as a result. Every character is completely rounded and credible, even the socially-woke ring-ins who rally round to build Maggie’s house. In the lead role, Dunne effortlessly commands our attention with a quietly powerful presence, yet it is the young Ruby-Rose O’Hara (as Maggie’s daughter Emma) who unexpectedly captures our hearts. She's an absolute treat.
Although HERSELF is not the easiest film to watch - and no story about domestic abuse should be - it is a rewarding look at how a little faith can go a long way. And with a little help from friends and neighbours, it can go even further.