Filmed in a rural Newfoundland region where time seems to have stood still, "Maudie" tells the true story of two loners facing a harsh world together, like a pair of trees on a frozen, bare landscape.
Maud Dawley (played by Sally Hawkins), born in 1903 Nova Scotia, suffered as a child from what would now be diagnosed as juvenile arthritis. As an adult, her condition worsened and she walked with a painful limp; nonetheless, she loved to paint colorful pictures of flowers, trees and animals. In her 30s, she met Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a taciturn bachelor living in a tiny farmhouse far from the nearest town, after he placed an ad for a housekeeper. They married and made a quiet life together, with Maud eventually becoming an internationally acclaimed folk artist. (That house, its walls and windows playfully layered with Maud's bright work, now stands as a permanent exhibit in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.)
As told in Aisling Walsh's engaging film, this isn't exactly a love story; Everett, for some time, is abusive and withdrawn, and it's often not clear whether Maud feels any attachment to him or if she's just there because of a lack of other options. But what shines through is the beauty of Guy Godfree's cinematography -- the light has a lovely, soft stillness to it, like a painting -- and a remarkable performance by Hawkins, whose impossibly wide smile seems to bring the sun.
A brief glimpse of the real Maud, at the end, shows us the uncanny accuracy of Hawkins's physical transformation, depicting Maud's severe stoop, curling hands and tiny, crushed voice. But Hawkins also creates a gentle, loving soul, determined to find beauty and goodness in a world that hasn't treated her kindly. About her hard-won joy in art -- while painting, she had to use one arm to support the other -- she's nonchalant: "If you want to paint, you paint, I suppose."
3.5 out of 4 stars
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett, Gabrielle Rose, Zachary Bennett.
Directed by Aisling Walsh, from a screenplay by Sherry White.
Rated PG-13 for some thematic content and brief sensuality.