Based on real events, Aisling Walsh presents a unique exploration of love in Maudie, delving into the unconventional relationship between the arthritic painter Maudie (Sally Hawkins) and her stoic, introverted Everett (Ethan Hawke) – which brings out two staggeringly impressive performances from the actors, which help to turn this somewhat passable drama into something worth watching.
Set in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia in 1970, we meet Maud – who suffers from arthritis and a hunched back, and so has been spent her life as an outsider, with not even her family treating her like one of their own. She applies for a job to be a housemaid at the home of Everett Lewis, and though initially they struggle to get along, they create a shorthand, a dialogue without the need for the words, falling in love and marrying. Maud is encouraged by her husband’s support for her ambitions to be an artist, and in spite of her condition, she paints – and she paints extremely well, as her blissful perspective on life shines through her work, and attracts a lot of media attention – which neither she, nor Everett, had quite accounted for.
Hawkins is just terrific in the title role, not just from a physical perspective, as she embodies this character and her disability – but internally too, so expressive without words, with such a palpable anguish in her eyes as you truly get a sense for her difficult upbringing and the pain she has encountered. Conversely, she has a smile to light up the room, and given we know what she’s been through, when she’s happy it means so much, with such sincerity to her conviction. Everett is a somewhat more challenging character to adhere to and invest in, but he makes Maud happy – and during the course of the movie, that becomes the viewer’s sole objective, such is the emotional engagement we have with this endearing woman.
In spite of the warmth that emanates from this title, it can be accused of feeling a little televisual in its approach, as the sort of film you’d happily sit down and watch on a quiet Sunday afternoon. But it’s not completely tender and congenial – for Maudie comes equipped with a profound undercurrent, spiked, persistently, by a sadness which adds an edge and poignancy, to an otherwise quite gentle piece of cinema.