Maudie is equal parts frustrating and lovely. Its characters are simple, but complex. My heart was rooting for the two protagonists to “live happily ever after”, and yet I’m not sure I can say whether or not they actually did.
Based on actual events, this movie focuses on the bleak love story of famous Canadian artist Maud Lewis, and her unlikely rise to folk art fame. It opens with Maud (Maudie), played by Academy Award nominee Sally Hawkins, sitting forlornly on the porch swing of a stately house. She has clear physical differences as she labors to light a cigarette. We learn that she has suffered since childhood from rheumatoid arthritis. Inside the house, her brother and aunt are arguing over who will look after Maud now that her mother has passed and the family home has been sold.
Maud evaluates the prospect of living under the frigid watch of her Aunt Ida, and decides to separate from the family that underestimates and minimizes her. She applies for the job of a live-in housekeeper to fishmonger Everett Lewis, played by Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke.
Everett lives in a very simple one-room house, perhaps better termed as a shack, for it couldn’t have been much bigger than 10’ by 10’ with an attic loft. (Fun fact: the shack was sold to the province, and a restored offering currently resides in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.)
We find out immediately that Everett has a limited capacity for connection. He tells Maud she ranks below him, the dogs, and the chickens, in order of importance. He makes it clear that he does not want to look after anything, but to be the one cared for and looked after.
Once Maud gets used to Everett’s expectations and the rhythm of his temper and outbursts, she manages to find time to paint. We get the sense that painting has always been a way for Maud to transcend her physical and environmental limitations and connect with the solace provided by the artform. At one point she remarks, “I’m never happier than when I have a brush in front of me.”
One day, a New Yorker on holiday for the summer discovers her handiwork and word starts to spread – all the way to President Nixon in the White House – about the talented folk artist in Nova Scotia. Soon buyers from all over are seeking out the tiny rural cottage for Maud’s art.
And so the dance unfolds. Everett alternates between tender and wicked. Maud is patient and persistent. And she paints. Prolifically. Literally on any surface she can find.
Sally Hawkins does a truly magnificent job portraying Maud and her progressive physical differences as she ages. The pain and discomfort Maud experiences is palpable as she shuffles slowly through the Nova Scotia snow storms and laboriously paints holding the brush between her shrivelled hands.
I was really taken with the use of windows throughout the film, especially during the final scene, where the light from the window shines through the haunting darkness in their shack after the doors are closed for the last time. Maud offers that windows provide “the whole of life, already framed, right there.”
While I’m not sure if the two protagonists’ relationship could ever truly be called loving, it was portrayed with moments of tenderness and dependency after the initial acts of violence and submission occurred. Aunt Ida commented to Maud, “You’re the only one in our family who ended up happy,” and I believe her. Maud was able to build a connection with Everett that was meaningful and purposeful, always while being able to pursue her passion of painting.
When the film ended, every single person in the theatre stayed in their seats as the credits rolled and samples of Maudie’s art rolled with the credits. Maudie was a film of contrasts that invited me to contemplate the nature of my own relationships, passions, and the impact of freedom of choice.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.