‘Looking through that window, you see the whole of life already formed’
Making its quiet entrance onto the festival circuit, Maudie brings the remarkable life of one woman to international audiences. Some may be familiar with Maud Lewis’ (nee Dowley) artwork, as one of Canada’s best known folk artists who passed away in 1970. As a joint effort between Canadian screenwriter Sherry White and Irish director Aisling Walsh, this film brings Maud Lewis to vibrant life with quiet pride.
The film tracks Maud’s life from her early 30s living with her aunt Ida, right until her last years. Sally Hawkins takes the lead role, transforming herself physically to portray the artist’s mobility issues from severe rheumatoid arthritis. It requires dramatic physical contortions, but Hawkins doesn’t let that dominate the performance, leaving the emphasis on a vibrant smile and smart one-liners.
A huge part of that narrative draws from Maud’s relationship with her husband, Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), from when she first works as his housekeeper to their complex marriage. While both outcasts, the two are different in that Everett keeps his pain on the outside and pushes away any kind impulses, which Maud represses her pain and wears the happiest part of her personality towards the world.
Much buzz is being made about Hawkins and deservedly so – she’s always been remarkable as an actress and a film like this allows her to shine. To almost match her, Ethan Hawke transforms himself in a different way, changing from the lithe, quick-talking characters we usually see from the actor, to a character who is more bear than man, both highly volatile and terrified of being vulnerable.
Maudie captures the bleak environment that surrounds their tiny house in Nova Scotia, but we watch as Maud transforms it from a blank shack to a vivid and colourful home. Her determination is celebrated, from sneaking out at night to dances as a young woman to stubbornly changing her fate by finding a job. She’s someone who could be easily exploited, but the film never asks for you to weep or get swept up in schmaltz. Instead, it celebrates what she achieved in a pocket of the world where no one expected anything.
It’s not always an easy watch – by many standards, much of Maud and Everett’s relationship is spent unhealthily. However, just as Maud recognises her potential, so Everett starts seeing the world as she does, recognising that he has to control his anger and pain in order to retain some happiness. Maud’s worldview is beautiful too, her paintings so bright and bold that it transforms the harsh landscape out the window. She’s our beating heart throughout the film, and Maudie asks us to trust her choices, even if they’re not always perfect.
I can’t emphasise how much I loved Maudie – it’s gentle but strong; inspiring and often very witty: just like the artist herself. It deserves a large audience for its fantastic performances and thoughtful approach to a historical biopic, and of letting us into a worldview of someone truly exceptional.
Maudie will arrive in UK cinemas on 4 August 2017.