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'Herself' Is an Empowering Story About a Mother's Strength and Resilience

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After a premiere that received glowing reviews at last year's Sundance Film Festival, Herself is finally available to stream on Amazon Prime. And while the Irish drama may appear to be a bleak tale at first glance, it is ultimately a timely and empowering story about a mother’s resilience and strength.

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Co-written by the movie’s leading lady, Clare Dunne, and helmed by Mamma Mia!’s Phyllida Lloyd, Herself is already getting Oscar buzz for Phyllida's strong directing and Clare's stunning performance. With the tough, but all too real subject matter, many viewers are wondering whether the plot in Herself is based on a true story, and whether Clare's Sandra existed in real life. 

Keep scrolling to find out all you need to know about this movie.

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Is 'Herself' based on a true story?

Audiences first meet Sandra (Clare Dunne) at the moment when she finally leaves her abusive husband, Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), after yet another violent outburst, just moments after he tells their two young daughters to leave the house. Thankfully, Sandra had feared this day would come and had already placed a note asking for help in one of her daughter’s toys. 

Thanks to her eldest daughter, Emma (Ruby Rose O’Hara), who gives the note to a local shopkeeper who calls the police, Sandra’s life is saved. The police register Sandra and her girls into the system and they're relocated to a hotel, but even though she's working two jobs, Sandra knows the hotel is only a temporary fix. Sandra also knows that the state’s social housing system is backed up and finding permanent housing for her girls could take up to three years. 

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Most importantly, Sandra is aware that the longer she takes to get her girls into a stable home, the bigger the chance of the state relocating them to live with their abusive dad. 

She lives under the everyday threat of Gary, who she fears could retaliate and do something to endanger Sandra or her kids.

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After she finds a do-it-yourself video explaining how to build a house for just under 35,000 Euro (around $38,000), Sandra decides to take things into her own hands. Things finally start to look up when Peggy (Harriet Walter), a doctor that Sandra’s looking after while she recovers from a broken hip, finds the how-to video that Sandra has been watching. 

When Peggy learns about Sandra’s situation, Peggy informs Sandra that she just happens to have a plot of land behind her house that Sandra can build her house on for free. With the help of retired construction worker Aido (Conleth Hill), Sandra recruits a bunch of locals to help her build her house. 

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Herself is not based on a true story, but reflects the reality of many women in Ireland and the world. The story came about when actress Clare received a call from a close friend, a single mother of three, who was about to be evicted from her home. While browsing the internet for housing options for her friend, Clare found a video from an architect explaining how to build a house for around $25,000, and the kernel of the story was born.

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The details in Herself were based on the many stories that Clare heard from women inmates in Dublin with whom the actress was working for a Shakespearean production. She spent a considerable amount of time learning about the system that women have to navigate after being in a domestic abuse situation, and interviewed social workers, psychologists, and women who had been through the experience themselves.

While Herself isn’t based on one single story, it is reflective of the hardships that survivors of abuse have to deal with on a daily basis. However, Clare said that she did not want to focus on the victimhood of Sandra. Although it’s not a fairytale ending, audiences see that it’s Sandra’s will and determination to build something for herself that attracts the help of others — it's ultimately this aspect of human kindness from near-strangers that will have you reaching for the tissues.

Herself is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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