Precarious homes: gender, domestic space and film before and during the pandemic

By: Anna Viola Sborgi

In Phyllida Lloyd’s recent drama Herself (2020), domestic abuse survivor Sandra (Clare Dunne) devises her own way out of the Irish housing crisis: after watching some online tutorials on how to self-build an affordable home, she decides to build one to live in with her two little girls and to protect herself from her violent husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson). To her help comes Peggy (Harriet Walter), the wealthy, retired doctor Sandra works for as a cleaner, who offers her land to build the house in the back of her Dublin townhouse. A group of friends and colleagues, overseen by initially reluctant building contractor Aido (Conleth Hill), generously gather to help her in the enterprise.

A compelling portrayal of domestic abuse survival, supported by a moving performance by actress and co-screenwriter Clare Dunne, the film is also a hymn to community and solidarity, especially resonant in pandemic times. Though the overly optimistic house-building narrative sometimes lacks credibility, especially considering class dynamics, the film is tempered by numerous plot twists that make one thing abundantly clear: home is never at easy reach.

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