As Canada celebrates its 150th Birthday in 2017, it will mark another opportunity for Canadians and those around the world alike to explore the rich history and people that have defined the True, North, Strong and Free. With director Aisling Walsh’s touching biopic “Maudie”, the chance to rediscover one of those Canadian greats comes to us in a sentimental and inspiring work of film.
Chronicling the life of Nova Scotian painter Maud Lewis, a simple-minded woman afflicted with degenerative arthritis, Maudie is both saddening and uplifting. But ultimately its triumph lies in its inspiring heroine with a truly beautiful soul. In the 1930s a person like Maud Lewis was mocked and dismissed, even by her own family. She was semi-crippled, socially awkward and innocent, but as is often the case in those rejected by the larger society, she had one of the greatest hearts of all. And of course beyond that a hidden talent for painting the beautiful scenery that makes up Atlantic Canada. As her painted works begin to attract the attention of the greater community and the media, an unexpected spotlight was shed on this tiny woman, her tiny abode, and an immense spirit.
The film is highlighted by a wonderfully moving performance by Sally Hawkins, who delivers what is deservedly an Oscar-worthy lead. Unfortunately, due to the timing of this film’s release (not even near Oscar season), Hawkins will most likely not get that recognition, but it is right to acknowledge that her portrayal is of Academy Awards-caliber. Similar to Eddie Redmayne’s physical transformation for his role in The Theory of Everything, Sally Hawkins too tackles the challenges of bodily deformity in playing Maud. She’s hunched over, with gnarled arthritic hands grasping paintbrushes, walks with a limp and speaks in a hushed tone.
It’s an impressive commitment to bringing to the screen the sad reality of Maud Lewis’s condition. But it’s not a completely saddening sight either, for, despite all the physical pain, Hawkins brings wit, humor, and dogged determination to the role that allows us to cheer Maud on and find unexpected inspiration. As Maud’s husband Everett Lewis, Ethan Hawke carves out a solid supporting turn.
The pace of the movie is occasionally slow and there are a number of scenes that feel like they are dragging on; for viewers accustomed to faster-paced dialogue and action, portions of “Maudie” may bore but the scenes are never consecutive or frequent enough to really hamper the overall flow of the film. Interspersed throughout the movie are some beautiful shots of the Nova Scotia terrain, the community of Marshalltown, and iconic summer and winter landscapes. These scenes also provide a reminder of the rural setting Maud lived in. In many ways, the isolation of her surroundings also reflected the isolation she experienced for many years. How just then, that her exposure to the world came for the same reasons she was isolated in the first place: her unique circumstances and indomitable drive.
Maudie is an emotional movie that celebrates a great Canadian artist in a respectful and inspiring fashion. Led by a strong central performance by Sally Hawkins, the tale of this greatly talented, but afflicted woman works as a good biography, but on a greater scale it shines as a story of the hidden treasures of the human soul. For Canadians, and indeed anyone, it will be rewarding to discover or perhaps rediscover the talents and struggles of one of the country’s most inspiring figures.