I went to see Maudie last night — it has been playing for weeks in Victoria which made me think there must be some reason why it was so stubbornly taking up screen time. There is.
Maud Lewis was a self-taught Nova Scotian painter. Aisling Walsh, the film’s director, is a self-taught Irish film maker. Lewis’ paintings were simple, popular, bright, colourful, sometimes funny, and deeply authentic. Where some people see a lack of style (“My kid could do better,” says one character in the film) others see truth.
The film works in much the same way. What could have been a sentimental biopic, becomes a rich portrait of a woman who painted away in poverty all her life and became fairly well-known while she was still alive. Much of the film’s success is due to the acting talent of Sally Hawkins who portrays Maud in a way that seems so honest that the audience doesn’t have time to pity her. We also don’t feel that we need to. As her aging aunt says, Maud is the only one in the family who managed to turn out “happy”. Ethan Hawke is brilliant too. He screws up his face in a funny way throughout the film which may seem odd, but it helps him to “become” Everett. it strikes me as a sign of a great performance when I no longer see the well-known actor and instead see only the character. One of his best moments is when a photographer asks him to smile for the camera and it’s as though no one has ever asked Everett to smile before in his life.
So… female director, female writer, great story, fabulous acting and, as an Irish/Canadian coproduction, we all get to see it before it goes down to American (where so many of Maud Lewis’ paintings ended up).