Director: Aisling Walsh
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke
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“There’s me, the dogs, the chickens, and then you.” That’s Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) to Maud Dowley (Sally Hawkins) in Maudie, shortly after she moves in with him. It’s not exactly the nicest thing to say. Then again, Everett is not exactly the nicest person. Grumpy, rude, self-centred and – on one occasion – violent, he’s a nasty piece of work.
Maud, on the other hand, couldn’t be a bigger contrast. She’s kind, gentle, deceptively resilient and almost impossibly optimistic. Shunned by her family – she had a baby, we’re told, but it died shortly after birth – and overlooked by 20th century Nova Scotia society, she retains an upbeat innocence that shines through in her simple but cheerful paintings. That quality catches the eye of neighbour Sandra (Kari Matchett), and, in turn, other buyers – much to the bemusement of Lewis.
Over time, a small business grows, her painting overtaking his fishmongering as a source of income for their home – and literally taking over the home too, as tiny birds and trees begin to appear on his walls. With that shift in commercial status comes a shake-up in their personal relationship – Everett begins to value her more. Well, more than the chickens and the dogs anyway.
It’s perhaps a predictable curve, but it’s one that Maudie sells with the utmost conviction, thanks to the dedicated performances from its two leads. Ethan Hawke is fantastic as the rather despicable loner Lewis, gruffly likeable but worryingly cruel and often highly dubious in his behaviour. Sally Hawkins, meanwhile, is wonderfully dedicated to the part of the much-loved Canadian artist, from her toes to her crooked smile and almost accidental laugh.
A lesser film might struggle to balance the sadness and nastiness with their fledgling unusual romance, but rather than ping pong between two moods, director Aisling Walsh delicately lets Maud’s perspective tint everything. Like the striking Newfoundland backdrop, we gradually come to see Everett through her naive eyes; her quietly relentless drive to make a home where she can belong ultimately engulfs the whole film. The result isn’t a romantic comedy or a gritty drama, and neither is it twee nor hard-hitting. Rather, it’s a force of kindness that hits you like a light breeze; the harsh reality and beauty of the world daubed in childlike watercolour.
Maudie is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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