Film review: MAUDIE, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Maudie, which is based on the life of Canadian folk artist Maude Lewis has Oscar written all over it. A moving but often mawkish story of someone battling against the odds, it’s exactly the sort of film the academy rewards. In lead Sally Hawkins case, however, that honour would be deserved.

Sallie Hawkins plays Maude a middle-aged woman crippled and hunched with rheumatoid arthritis who, desperate to find her place in the world leaves her aunt’s Nova Scotia home in the late 1930’s to work as a cleaner with local fisherman Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). It soon becomes sadly apparent that the grumbling, anti-social Everett is a misogynist pig who verbally abuses Maude and even strikes her. Maude isn’t daunted by his abuse or the cruelty to which the world subjects her as she finds solace in painting. Despite her arthritic hands she paints charming simple bucolic scenes on just about everything in sight including the walls of Everett’s shack. Through a chance meeting with socialite Sandra (Kari Matchett), Maude and her art become a cause célèbre.

This film has a major problem at its core. Despite the appalling way in which Everett treats Maude, she warms to him and they eventually marry. Clearly the audience are also meant to embrace Everett or at least feel some sympathy for him but that is extremely difficult given his actions. Whether this is simply a miscalculation by scriptwriter Sherry White and director Aisling Walsh or a distortion of Everett’s character is uncertain but it creates a gnawing unease about the film.

Despite the script worries, Sally Hawkins is astonishing as Maude wrenching every drop of empathy from the character without ever seeming forced. By infusing Maude with a sharp intellect, a wonderfully sly sense of humour and astonishing resilience she avoids making the performance an indulgent exercise in misery; it’s easily one if the year’s standout performances.

Although we hate his character, Ethan Hawke is surprisingly effective as Everett. Hawke normally plays smart, literate, 30-something professionals so it’s an impressive feat for him to convincingly portray a physically imposing, troubled and uneducated man. It would have been helpful to learn more about Everett’s back-story, though, as this might have explained his vile behaviour. Similarly, Kari Matchett, with her wonderfully over-the-top Katherine Hepburn-esque voice adds welcome colour to the film but her character Sandra’s story isn’t sufficiently developed and we learn little of her background.

Appropriate to a film about a woman who saw great beauty in the world, director Aisling Walsh and cinematographer Guy Godfree have conjured some stunning images of snowbound Nova Scotia and the picturesque fishing village in which Maude and Lewis reside. The atmosphere is also enhanced by some lilting country folk tunes.

Maudie raises serious concerns about its depiction of abusive relationships but also leaves us with indelible performances and some impressive filmmaking.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Biopic/ drama.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Aisling Walsh.

Release date: 24th Aug 2017.

Running time: 115 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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