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Stars: Clare Dunne, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Lorcan Cranitch, Molly McCann, Ruby Rose O'Hara

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

A feelgood film about a battered wife seems like a contradiction in terms, but director Lloyd, who made Mamma Mia! and The Iron Lady, somehow manages to weld the two disparate elements together in this Anglo-Irish production, and help us gloss over its implausibilities.

The battering section comes at the beginning, as Sandra (Dunne, who also co-scripted) prepares herself for another savage beating at the hands of husband Gary (Anderson, perfect in the role) by whispering 'Black Widow' to one of her small daughters, Emma (O'Hara), who promptly runs helter-skelter to fetch the police before her mother can be maimed or killed. The other daughter, Molly (McCann), witnesses the subsequent violence from the cover of her dolls house.

Sandra leaves home with her girls, taking a room at a small hotel, paying the rent with income from her two jobs, as a waitress at a bar, and cleaner for temporarily invalided Dr Peggy (Walter), Sandra's mother having done the same cleaning job before her recent early death, which has left her daughter unprotected against Gary's assaults.

Struggling to make ends meet, Sandra conceives the idea of building her own timber-frame house. Rebuffed by banks and loan companies, she finds salvation at hand in the shape of Dr Peggy, now recovered, who offers her a site at the end of her capacious garden, as well as the loan she needs.

Gathering together a group of friends under civil engineer Aido (Hill), she begins work on the site - but Gary, spotting inaccuracies on council forms she's filled in, as well as an on-site injury to Emma, which alerts him to the project - applies for custody of the girls.

Apart from the all-too-relevant presence of the battered wife syndrome, the plot hardly bears close inspection, especially in the all-in-it-together motif of the housing project. But the acting is solid, the two little girls are both amazingly good, and the director leavens the perhaps-too-feelgood feeling with a shocking climax - before a slightly more upbeat conclusion.

David Quinlan

UK/Ireland 2020. UK Distributor: Picturehouse (Element/Amazon Studios). Colour (uncredited).
97 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 05 Sep 2021