The life and times of folk painter Maud Lewis forms the basis of Irish filmmaker Aisling Walsh’s biopic Maudie, a quietly affecting tale that is more than elevated by the performances of its two leads, Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Their performances go a long way in making these two feel like fully fleshed out human beings as opposed to the caricatures that the subjects could have easily become in the hands of less capable talent. Their presence also glides the film across its troublesome spots, particularly its tendency to be a bit too low key for its own good at times.
The film’s narrative picks up with Maud (Hawkins) as a twentysomething living out her life in rural Nova Scotia in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s clear right from the get-go that something isn’t quite right with Maud from a physical standpoint. She suffers from what is apparently an arthritic condition that has now reduced her to a painful limp. None of this deters Maud from her real passion of turning out beautifully rendered watercolor landscapes in a very prolific and inspired manner. It eventually would capture the attention of the locals and reward her some measure of fame in the process.
Maud yearns for more of a life than the one she currently has and accepts a position as housekeeper for local bachelor, Edward Lewis (Hawke). Lewis offers Maud living quarters in his home as part of the deal, a development which Maud’s ultra conservative parents have trouble processing. Eventually, Lewis offers to marry her but even after the two become a couple Edward isn’t really able to give himself to Maud emotionally. At times his behavior towards her is even brutish, and credit must be given to the film for not attempting to make him a saint which Lewis clearly was not.
All the while, through all of the ups and downs of her life, Maud continues to paint. Her work eventually gains her some notoriety once the word gets around regarding her talent. Maud’s celebrated status also leads to conflicts with Edward who isn’t sure how to process all of the flurry of attention being showered on his wife. The film’s final act wherein Edward does come to some appreciation of Maud’s place in his life is very moving indeed.
One of the strengths of Maudie, outside of its terrific performances, is in its strong evocation of time and place. Kudos must given to the wonderful lensing of the pic by Guy Godfree, who manages to assemble images that have a kinship with Maud’s work in terms of their beauty. Maudie may be a bit laid back for its own good but there’s still much to admire in this portrait of an artist whose work—and life—deserve to be known.
Maudie is playing at the Regal Manor Twin in Charlotte.
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