Rating: 3.5 / 5
Stories of people triumphing over adversity usually make good films, and when the story is based on truth, a good film becomes a powerful one.
Such is the case with the Canadian biopic Maudie, set in a small town in Nova Scotia, but filmed in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Described as a biographical romantic drama beginning in the 1930s, it’s the story of Maud Dowley, a physically disabled woman who develops a talent for folk art, which attracts attention from all over North America.
When we meet Maudie (Sally Hawkins), she has a strange physical presence, with an uneven gait, badly hunched shoulders and her chin on her chest. While initially we are not sure whether she is also mentally disabled, it soon becomes apparent that behind her bright brown eyes is a shrewd and determined personality, determined not to be defined by the ravages of her lifelong disability.
Maudie longs to be independent, and leaves the stern care of her aunt to answer an advertisement to be a housekeeper for a taciturn and rough fish peddler and junk merchant, Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke).
Everett was abandoned by his parents and grew up in an orphanage, and it soon becomes apparent that we have two damaged people, thrown together by fate.
While this doesn’t look like an auspicious start for Maudie, she withstands the bullying and an episode of violence from Everett, so she can be independent and live the life she wants.
Hawke’s Everett is initially a most unpleasant character and we long to help Maudie survive his initial treatment of her. But we soon become aware of the incredible strength of character and determination of Maudie, who discovers a tin of paint and decides to brighten up the dark and grey small house they share.
Despite her crippled hands, Maudie has a talent for reflecting nature and the world around her in simple but beautiful paintings, firstly on the walls of the house, then on postcards. A visiting tourist spies one of Maudie’s cards, buys it and then commissions Maudie to paint works especially for her.
Gradually Maudie’s fame as a folk painter spreads, and along the way Everett’s bullying attitude slowly changes to admiration and later love, and at Maudie’s request they marry. While Maudie started as his housekeeper and cook, in order to allow her to earn them income Everett switches roles and takes over the domestics so Maudie can have free rein to paint.
By this point in the film, we marvel at how humans can transform themselves when there is love and a passion for something. In the early scenes, the chance of a fulfilling relationship between Maudie and Everett seems the stuff of wild imaginings, but it happens, as it did in real life.
Maudie’s fame as an artist spread, and even US vice-president Richard Nixon ordered a Maudie creation. Today, her paintings are in many fine art collections around the world.
Maudie is a quiet film of triumph that is definitely worth the journey for any thoughtful filmgoer.
Highlight: strong storyline and performances from Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke
Red flag: One instance of violence