It may not be a biopic of Van Gogh, Turner or Warhol, but Maudie presents a beautifully understated illustration of small-town Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. It’s a humble and human story about arthritic Maud’s love for colour and everyday art, led by a mesmerising Sally Hawkins who shines brightly throughout.
Outsider Maud (Hawkins), neglected by society and her own family, one day answers fish peddler Everett’s advert to become a live-in housemaid. Determined to stand on her own two feet, she defies those who equate struggling to walk with struggling to look after herself. Sure enough, this determination shines through again and again, even when it’s manipulating marriage to her employer.
Speaking of Everett (Ethan Hawke), he is abusive and cruel, obsessed with control and initially not painted as a likeable character in the slightest. However, it’s this unorthodox living arrangement that leads to Maud’s rediscovery of painting. She’ll paint windows, stairs, anything she can get her hands on and, gradually, her paintings brimming with childlike innocence make her a local celebrity. British Oscar-nominated actress Hawkins is tremendous, with every coy smile or line crafted close to perfection. Effortlessly capturing both the witty (sometimes weak, sometimes strong) spirit of Lewis, and a believable physical crippling transformation, she’s deserving of award-winning recognition. A more subtly impressive Hawke mumbles and grumbles his way through the script, expertly conveying his character’s inability to communicate. The nuances in stubborn Everett’s Maud-induced change will bring flashes of quiet joy.
Reflecting the artist’s simple life and paintings, Maudie opts not to push boundaries and instead sustains a simple tone and pace. which can consequently feel painfully slow at times. Admirably, however, director Aisling Walsh chooses not to dwell on the protagonist’s physical limitations but rather charts her personal journey through art. Thanks to the chemistry between Hawkins and Hawke this is also an unconventional but believable romance of two flawed characters. Maudie doesn’t come across as a piece designed purely to inspire; instead it shines a light on a real person who faced obstacles but found a pure way to express herself. Poignantly, there’s a quote about how life itself is a picture; a window is already a perfect frame. It’s not a case of life imitating art, but life already being art. The film may not be life-changing but there’s inspiration to be gained. Plus, the eventual visual transformation of the Lewis’s little house is bound to warm up anyone in a cold Nova Scotia winter.
Maudie is released nationwide on 4th August 2017.
Watch the trailer for Maudie here: