Director: Aisling Walsh Starring: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett Runtime: 116 minutes
What you notice straight away about Maudie isn’t it’s main character, but its setting. Based and shot in Nova Scotia, Canada, our story enfolds amidst the crashing of waves, the howling of winds and the bitter cold breezes that role off of the Atlantic. “There’s a kind of bleakness in that landscape”, says director Aisling Walsh, “it’s very much like the west of Ireland”. However, just like our stunning western shores, there is a haunting and harsh beauty to be found amongst it all, full of colours that can range from sullen to vibrant and vistas that survey both normal, everyday life and the various marvels of the landscape. It is, in many ways, the perfect setting for a story like Maudie, about a couple’s turbulent journey to finding happiness.
Maudie follows the true story of Maud and Everett Lewis, a couple living in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, Canada. Maud (Sally Hawkins) is a quiet folk artist who breaks free from the family that has held her back and controlled her throughout her young life by answering a local advert for a ‘woman to help around the house’ for reclusive fishmonger Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). While he works away from home, Maud tends to the farm, cleans their small cottage and paints the bare walls with all that she sees out of her small window. When her paintings start gaining popularity, the quiet and solitary life that the coulpe built for themselves begins to change.
Despite the artist’s real-life fame (which involved painting an original piece for then Vice-President Richard Nixon), Maudie is more concerned with the relationship between the artist and her husband. In fact, while her paintings play a significant role in the movie, we are given ample opportunity to become acquainted with the main characters before a paint brush is even lifted. As such, when their relationship becomes troubled, and often abusive, we care very much for the outcome and become engrossed in their lives. This is all thanks to Sherry White’s compelling script, which allows the more intimate moments and minutia of their relationship to be fully realised.
Walsh’s direction works in various different ways. With a biopic like this, there is a tendency to focus solely on the central performances and neglect the little details of the script, the direction and the overall flow of the story. However, while the two main characters drive the movie, Walsh utilises the film’s location as a storytelling tool – one impressive shot sees our two characters walking out of town against the backdrop of the Atlantic ocean and tells us more about their relationship than an hour of dialogue ever could.
Instead of becoming sentimental with the material and presenting a theatrical version of this story, Walsh strips it back to its bare bones and tells the story as it should be – natural. As such, Hawkins’ performance (which could have slipped into OTT territory at any point) is more controlled and layered than the trailers would have you believe, and the piece strays away from ‘awards bait’ territory.
As a result of a year’s worth of preparation involving movement training and dialogue coaching, Maudie presents Sally Hawkins with one of her best ever performances. Despite the territory, which would have easily allowed for an over-the-top performance, Hawkins’ turn as Maud Lewis is perfectly organic and natural.
The most impressive performance, however, belongs to Ethan Hawke. According to Aisling Walsh, Hawke’s performance was even more impressive considering he rolled onto set on a Sunday evening and began work on Monday morning! Everett is a character who we have seen a million times before; an introverted and angry man who is unprepared for dealing with his emotions. However, Hawke’s portrayal is less black and white. Despite his tough exterior, Hawke frequently offers glimpses at a different side of Everett Lewis through a series of subtle facial expressions and ticks, which hold your attention throughout the story’s various highs and lows.
Maudie is a natural, intimate study of the lives of Maud and Everett Lewis, bolstered by impressive performances from both Hawkins and Hawke and Walsh’s pitch-perfect direction. We can be very excited for Walsh’s next project, whatever it may be.(4 / 5)