Maudie, directed by Aisling Walsh, feels much like the early springtime sun coming and going on my back as I write this review.
Based on a true story, Maudie follows the life of one of Canada’s greatest folk artists, Maud Lewis, who grew up in Marshalltown, a small fishing village in Nova Scotia in the 1920s.
Sally Hawkins plays Maud and her deep love and care made my soul flutter during the entire film. I don’t want to hype it up too much for you, but I can’t help it. It is no wonder that it has won 9 awards including People’s Choice Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2016.
Maudie was filmed in Ireland and Nova Scotia in amongst landscape that is beautifully wild and melancholic. When Maud’s parents die and her older brother inherits and sells their family home, Maud seeks out a job to start an independent life. Maud meets Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), an illiterate fisherman who is far from charming but is looking for a housekeeper. In her spare time, Maud begins painting and it’s these charming paintings that soon attract interest from the townspeople of her village.
Everett's character is painted as a man who has not known love. Now you may be thinking, not another film where the woman saves the disgruntled man’s soul from drowning in his own misery, but it is during their unique and unassuming (and somewhat untraditional) kinship that Maud further develops her painter’s eye.
As a painter myself, I love how Walsh depicts the simple, joyful pleasure of Maud’s creative life and worldview. Maud’s love of paint and color, animals, nature and small-town scenes is captured through the slow gentle build-up of the storyline. The beautifully simple cinematography emphasizes the mundane beauty of the everyday, that inspired Maud so much to paint only from memory. Maud didn’t feel the need to put labels on what she did or why; she just painted because that’s who she was. She captured her mind's beauty obsessively until the day she died.
Sally Hawkins really emphasized the strength, wit, and wholeheartedness of Maud’s character. Maud’s juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, (JRA) which developed early in life was portrayed as a facet of her overall identity, while also still demonstrating the realities and toll that this form of arthritis had on her body. I do question the ethics of an able-bodied person being cast a role that could be portrayed more authentically. However, seeing the diversity of human function portrayed on the big screen is something to celebrate, as unfortunate as that is.
Although I can’t relate to Maud’s experience or anyone who has JRA, as a queer person who wears hearing aids, I can relate to the notion of being lumped into a box and being assumed to be the same as other people with a similar sexuality/gender or disability.
It is essential that I mention that Maud’s juvenile arthritis didn’t overpower the abilities, strength, wit, and charm of her character. This is unfortunately rare when portraying characters that sit outside what society considers to be, “the normal” human function.
After watching Maudie, you could read the full-length biography Maud Lewis – The Heart on the Door, by Lance Woolaver, published in 2016 which I endeavor to do. It will no doubt give an inevitably different visual to the life behind Maud’s soul-nourishing works of art.