MAUDIE. Starring: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett, and Zachary Bennett. Directed by Aisling Walsh. Rated PG. (Mild themes and sexual references). 116 min.
This romance-drama is based on true events, and tells the life story of a Canadian folk-artist, Maud Dowley, whose paintings won her national and international acclaim in the 1950s as one of Canada’s best loved folk-artists. Maud Downey painted with a body that was racked with rheumatoid arthritis.
Maudie (Sally Hawkins) is informed by her brother (Zachary Bennett) that her family house has been sold without her knowledge. Sad and lonely, she answers an advertisement placed by a rough fish-monger and wood-chopper, Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), who “requires” a cleaning lady. Maudie makes sure she is the only person to apply, and accepts the position.
Everett is grumpy, taciturn and difficult to relate to, and he treats Maudie initially in an insulting, and demeaning way. While attempting to clean his tiny house, Maudie begins to paint - first on a shelf, then on walls, windows, stairs, and doors. She paints her cheeriness in primitive style and bright colours, in familiar scenes of birds, animals, flowers, farmyards, and boats. Every corner of Everett’s cramped space shows Maudie’s art.
One of Everett’s customers, Sandra (Kari Matchett), a wealthy woman, is attracted by Maudie’s art, and commissions a large painting from her. Her paintings begin to attract the attention of famous people, including President Nixon. Sandra encourages Maudie to sell paintings, rather than postcards, and Maudie and Everett decide to marry. For Maudie, it would look “more proper if I married him”, and she knows marriage would help the sale of her paintings. As far as Everett is concerned, he “may as well”. A marriage of convenience for both of them turns into one of love.
Years later, Maudie is devastated emotionally by the news that a child of hers from her teenage past, who she thought had died, is still alive. The news disturbs both Maudie and Everett, and they part. Everett separates from Maudie, because he thinks his relationship with her has bought him nothing but trouble and anguish. But missing her, he returns, and he takes Maudie to see her daughter, sitting outside her home. Reconciliation for Everett and Maudie takes place as Maudie’s health ebbs away, and Maudie dies, knowing that Everett has loved her deeply.
Sally Hawkins captures precisely the tortured posture of one who is stricken with severe arthritis. Her performance is breath-taking. Maudie’s joy and happiness, and her contentment in Everett, are in stark contrast to Everett’s rough and seemingly callous disposition. Everett has fallen in love with a passionately determined woman, who loved him enough to paint his name into her art.
This is a bizarre love story that is acted totally realistically and authentically with no hint of overplaying, or overemphasising Maudie’s affliction. Maudie radiates happiness through adversity, and the film is an inspiring portrait of the resilience of a creative person. The scenes of Maudie and Everett together, tentatively forging their attachment to each other, are incredibly moving.
The cinematography in the movie is exceptional. From countryside to the interiors of Everett’s cramped house, the camera roams searchingly. It captures the beauty of the sands and skies of coastal Nova Scotia from afar, and the intimacies of the tiny space in which Everett and Maudie live together. The photography complements the emotional component of the drama that is unfolding, and the film’s scripting and musical score are excellent.
This is not a sentimental or melodramatic film in any way. It is a gentle depiction, under the assured control of female Irish Director, Aisling Walsh, of a relationship that grows into enduring love. Two socially awkward people search to find meaning in their lives, and they come together to find comfort and solace in each other. This is a deeply moving story of female empowerment, and a truly beautiful movie.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released August 24th., 2017