Maudie review: Sally Hawkins skilfully portrays Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis in this quaint, sweet biopic from Irish filmmaker Aisling Walsh.
Maudie review by Paul Heath at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.
Maudie is the latest film from celebrated television director Aisling Walsh, and is the follow-up feature following her work on 2003’s Song For A Raggy Boy and her feature film debut Joyriders all of the way back in 1988.
This film is easily her biggest and most ambitious yet. Written by Sherry White, Maudie is based on the true story of Maud Dowley (Sally Hawkins), a Nova Scotia resident who suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. We’re introduced to her at a time in her life when her mother and father have passed away and the family home has been passed on to her brother, which was common practise at the time. Her brother, Charles (here played by Zachary Bennett) has made the decision to sell the house and Maud is sent to live with his elderly aunt in Digby. A short time afterwards, Maud meets Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a local fish peddler who is advertising for a live-in housemaid. Maud immediately applies for the position and, following a couple of initial hostile interactions, with the young fisherman, moves in with him to start work, much to the dismay of Isa, who decrees that she never wants to see her again.
From then on it, the two share the limited space in the one up, one down house, where Maud starts to decorate the walls and windows with her pretty paintings of flowers and birds, much to the dismay of Everett. Soon afterwards the couple marry and Maud starts to get recognition for her work both financially and publicly. The film tells the story of the couple’s remarkable life as Maud’s health deteriorates while her reputation grows.
Maudie was one of those films that I came to knowing very little about the source material, or the person in which the story focusses upon. Walsh and her collaborators draw the story out over two hours, the pace as gentle and delicate as the central character in which it portrays. Hawkins is superb as the sweet natured Maud, her performance so very physical as she transforms into the character. Hawke is better than he has ever been, but one can’t quite help but notice a slight mis-casting, especially when the film eventually fades to black and real footage of the real-life couple is displayed. What he lacks in terms of physical appearance, he makes up for with his slow, deliberate, and indeed grunting performance as the social misfit, an Ethan Hawke oh so very different to anything we’ve seen him tackle before.
Walsh’s film does take a while to get going, but one is slowly tempted by its many charms. Its biggest asset is clearly the talented Hawkins who we become emotionally attached to from the outset, but the filmmaker’s equally delicate approach to the material ensures for a two-hour journey into a life so wonderful that it will etch in the memory for some time afterwards.
Maudie review by Paul Heath, February 2017.
Maudie plays as a special presentation at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.