Maudie – Film Review by Frank L
Directed by Aisling Walsh
Writer: Sherry White
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett
Inspired by the life of Maud Lewis (nee Dowley – 1903 to 1970), Maudie tells Maud’s story in the back of beyond Nova Scotia from the time she was in her mid-thirties, after the death of both her parents. Her brother Charles (Zachary Bennett), who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, has manipulated the family finances so Maud has to live with the heartless, rule-obsessed, respectable Aunt Ida (Gabriel Rose). Maud had been born with some form of juvenile arthritis that impeded her physical agility. She walks with a pronounced limp. Her body is contorted.
She appears to be a little simple but she is anything but. She notices, one day, in the local general store, a small advertisement seeking a maid. She investigates and turns up at a tiny, one-roomed shed where Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) lives. His trade is that of a fish peddler but he is a loner, an outsider and the product of an orphanage. He treats her with contempt but she is not deterred. Even in this emotionally and physically restricted space her life is somehow richer with Everett than with the cold hearted, puritanical Aunt Ida. What Maud possesses is an innate, unique talent to paint. Without any artistic education, she paints on whatever is to hand in the primitive dwelling. Eventually her talent is noticed by some outsiders. The story then delves into Maud’s earlier existence and her relationship with Everett.
Sherrie White, the script writer, does not follow slavishly the true story of Maud Lewis. Her script, together with Bafta award winning Aisling Walsh’s direction, creates through the incomparable acting of Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke a relationship of ungainly inequality where there is just enough decency so that Maud’s talent can take root. Her talent alters the relationship between her and Everett but still their underlying respective roles remain that of master and servant. As portrayed by Walsh, Everett, has a cuteness so that he twigs that Maud’s paintings can supplement his measly income as a fish peddler but he barely gives her any greater respect as a result. However she is not without spunk as is apparent when she sends her loathsome brother Charles packing when he hears she is making a few pence with the paintings. But it is the angular relationship between Maud and Everett which drives the story and their respective pasts poke their ungenerous selves into their story together. The harshness of their daily existence and the triumph of Maud’s ability to paint is all kept in an uneasy balance by Walsh’s astute direction.
Walsh is entitled to take a deep bow for her direction of Maudie. Both Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins give performances which make their misshapen characters ring true. It is an awkward story but Walsh transforms it from a sow’s ear into a silk purse. It is like one of Maud’s paintings, untutored but engaging and ultimately enchanting.