Maudie: new film a glorious piece of artistry


Ethan Hawke as Everett Lewis and Sally Hawkins as Maudie.
Ethan Hawke as Everett Lewis and Sally Hawkins as Maudie.

MEMO to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop: take a look at the achingly lovely Maudie.

After the WA MP’s epic fail in reading for a part in Get Shorten: Barnaby Joyce and the International Citizenship Conspiracy, some remedial acting work might be in order.

For highly stylised but constrained and dignified performances, look no further than Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke in the true story of Maud Lewis, who overcame the physical challenge of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis to become one of Canada’s premier folk artists.

The crippling effects of the disease on her movement meant she spent her early life dismissed and marginalised for what was presumed to be her limited ability.

But Lewis’ colourful paintings, made on whatever she could find, her surfaces ranging from beaverboard to cookie sheets, established her reputation as a unique talent.

Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, 1937. Maud Dowley (Hawkins) is living with an unsympathetic, judgemental and schoolmarmish aunt. Her brother has abandoned her.

Desperate to break away, she cunningly takes a noticeboard ad from a local fish peddler for a housekeeper, effectively cornering the market.

Everett Lewis (Hawke) is disagreeable and initially cruel to Maudie (there are some harrowing scenes and ugly slights), but the two quickly acknowledge that each is in their own way a social outcast, with an unusual take on the world around them. They need and understand each other. Within weeks, they marry.

One day a summer resident comes calling. She’s a New Yorker, wears alluring clothing and talks like Katharine Hepburn. She sees something in Maudie’s paintings, won’t take no for an answer and commissions one.

Suddenly Maudie’s pastime is recognised as having real value. People come from far and wide. Eventually her work will hang in the White House.

The genius of director Aisling Walsh here is to aspire so assiduously to honour the artistic qualities of Maudie.

This is expressed in individual frames from Canadian cinematographer Guy Godfree, most of which alone surpass the beauty of whole superhero franchises.

The aim appears to be to acknowledge the powers that can be unleashed in any of us. For Maudie, this can somehow find expression through those gnarled fingers dipped in a pot, or a crooked hand painfully cradling a brush.

Hawkins and Hawke are a revelation.

This is no picture postcard romance but it is picture postcards recognised by an artistic eye that provide the initial access for the wider world to share in Maudie’s vision.

To be fair to Ms Bishop, we could all do with a window into this world.

With the weekly blows to our sense of a common cause, who would not wish to have the power to put out their finger and paint over some of the horrors we are being exposed to all too regularly.

Treat yourself to the full cinematic experience of a glorious piece of artistry from an outstanding international production.

Maudie (PG)
Directed by: Aisling Walsh
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke
Five stars
In cinemas August 24

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