Saint Maud – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director: Rose Glass
Writer: Rose Glass
Stars: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight
An intensely lost and lonely woman finding employment in the nursing-care sector is assigned to the care of a dying diva, in a large clifftop mansion overlooking the chilling North Sea. The sensual worldliness of the patient, surviving on dreams of her past triumphs and glories (and coincidentally modelling her mannerisms all too clearly on Meryl Streep) is in marked contrast to the intense oddity of her carer – an oddity underpinned by an obsessive religiosity, which it transpires is more to do with obsession and neuroses than any form of genuine piety.
Essentially a two-hander, with walk on characters that pad out some character background, this is an unlikely pairing which nonetheless allows levels of intimacy to develop between carer and patient, intimacies which hint at a battle between religious conversion and sexual seduction. Nonetheless, for all the closeness it is hard to see how anyone would retain Maud to serve canapes at a cocktail party. Maud is a lost soul – literally and there is obviously something that has happened in her past, to which we are not given access. We have the sense that she is lucky to have any employment given this past. Confined rat-like to a squalid bedsit she emerges into the darkness of evening, walking the streets convinced of her own goodness and eternal reward.
In his advice to the would-be devout, the sixteenth century Bishop of Geneva, St Francis de Sales (1567-1622), while urging all sorts of devotional practices, usually simple and discreet, is keen to prevent the pride of those who ‘place themselves so high in their own esteem that they look upon everyone as mean and inferior.’ Alas for Maud, she needed a mentor or a confessor to guide her way. She is far from a religious intensity which can provide comfort and solace. Instead, there is a self-obsession which defeats the purpose. Rather than focus on others, Maud is self-obsessed!
Camerawork, lighting and setting add to the sense of looming horror no more so than when Maud inflicts additional pain on her already afflicted self. The film falls short of its potential excellence by ill-considered diversions into the land of The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). The mood created and the threatening narrative was already dark and strong enough without last-minute hocus pocus.