- Emma Simmonds
- 22 June 2017
EIFF 2017: Sally Hawkins astonishes in a charming biopic of the eponymous folk painter
A portrait of a painter who's as meek as they come and whose recognition as an artist fails to lift her from poverty, Maudie is rich with modest charms. It tells the story of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis (played by Sally Hawkins), famed for her simple but cheerful landscapes and pictures of flora and fauna, which spilled over onto the walls and windows of her tiny home – now preserved in its entirety in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
Belittled by her family, including her greedy and feckless brother Charles (Zachary Bennett) and embittered aunt (Gabrielle Rose), this painfully arthritic thirtysomething spies an opportunity for escape when local handyman and fish salesman Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) posts an advertisement for a housekeeper. He's less than impressed with the prospect of taking Maud on, while his house is merely a single room with a sleeping loft, yet the two eventually come to an arrangement. Although Everett is prone to casual cruelty himself, what begins disconcertingly evolves into something resembling a romance.
Irish director Aisling Walsh (best known for her work in TV, including an adaptation of Sarah Waters' Fingersmith that also starred Hawkins) helms a film of unshowy intimacy, in which every element – including Hawke's own performance – takes a backseat to its leading lady's stunning work. Walsh makes pretty use of the idiosyncratic location (set in Nova Scotia, it was actually shot in Newfoundland) but Sherry White's screenplay conveys the complexity of a difficult, dysfunctional and often abusive home-life with enough frankness for this to feel quietly courageous.
There is some conventional heartstring-tugging and Maudie might not pack the artistic punch of similarly themed biopics like Mr Turner or Séraphine, however, it suits its subject entirely. It focuses closely on the artist herself and her awkward albeit exacting technique – her style dictated by her disability, her need to create intrinsic to her being. Maud's character is vividly relayed by the astonishing Hawkins, who delivers a performance of dogged detail; she's a woman who seems to absorb every insult and disappointment in the stoop of her stance, the pain etched across her face. And yet she weathers it all and emerges something like triumphant, through the endless optimism of her art.
Screening on Fri 23 and Sun 25 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 4 Aug.