Maudie – movie review

by Peter Calder / 02 November, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Maudie movie

Sally Hawkins lifts the story of a painter who overcomes the odds above sentimentality.

Born Maud Dowley in 1903 in the remote, peninsular Canadian province of Nova Scotia, Maud Lewis achieved minor fame for her naive paintings of everyday rural scenes: her prodigious output belied her affliction with rheumatoid arthritis, which made it hard for her to hold a brush.

She was abandoned by her brother after their parents’ death, and took a job as live-in housekeeper to hard-up fish pedlar Everett Lewis and then became his wife.

This Irish-Canadian co-production plays fast and loose with the facts and comes close to infantilising her, not least in its title – no one calls her Maudie in the film and Maud is a good title for a movie. It never quite shakes the sense that it is patronising a woman who, in her own on-screen words, was “born wrong”.

But Sally Hawkins’s dazzling performance will surely earn Oscar attention. If it’s not quite as good as Daniel Day-Lewis’s in My Left Foot, it’s in the ballpark, as she goes beyond the physical (right heel raised, toe turned in; chin on chest; claw-like hand) to burrow hard into the soul of the character: as she absorbs the truth of a climactic revelation, she is almost torn apart by grief, and we are too, and her twinkle-eyed one-liners go over the heads of their targets and come straight to us.

Beside her, Ethan Hawke’s Everett is grievously underwritten – much of the time he’s reduced to the curmudgeonly grunting of a man old before his time and his motivations remain obscure at best. Oddly, for a film written and directed by women, the fact that her considerable income from painting is passed direct to him is often noted, but never explored: when Everett’s best friend asks him why he hasn’t improved his shack home, we wonder, too.

In all, the airbrushing of some of the less picturesque reality (conspicuously about Maud’s young motherhood) makes the film too sentimental to be great, but the sumptuous camerawork of Guy Godfree and Hawkins’s remarkable turn lift it well above the run-of-the-mill.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★

This article was first published in the October 28, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Colin Hogg: Why my mates matter (and keep on ending up in my books)
102594 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Books

Colin Hogg: Why my mates matter (and keep on endin…

by Colin Hogg

With his second book about Sam Hunt proving a hit, Colin Hogg ponders why so much of his writing career has been inspired by his mates.

Read more
Vote for your favourite dish in the 2019 Peugeot People’s Choice Award
102345 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Top 50 Restaurants

Vote for your favourite dish in the 2019 Peugeot P…

by Metro

Vote for your favourite dish in the 2019 Peugeot People’s Choice Award and be in to win dinner for two.

Read more
Death of the gods: The woeful response to kauri dieback disease
102578 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Planet

Death of the gods: The woeful response to kauri di…

by Bob Harvey

The closer you get to a kauri, the more you realise you are looking at one of the wonders of the planet.

Read more
National’s failure to grasp climate change a major challenge for NZ
102598 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Planet

National’s failure to grasp climate change a major…

by Steve Abel

National's Bluegreen wing are set to hold their annual conference this weekend. Greenpeace’s Steve Abel will be there to challenge the party.

Read more
The native Mandarin speaker who's translating te reo on television
102606 2019-02-20 22:10:47Z Education

The native Mandarin speaker who's translating te r…

by Vomle Springford

Lidu Gong first started learning te reo in bed.

Read more
Win a double pass to Everybody Knows
102573 2019-02-20 13:19:44Z Win

Win a double pass to Everybody Knows

by The Listener

Starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Everybody Knows is a gripping new thriller about the fissures and fault lines that can tear a family apart.

Read more
Fall into a beautiful abyss at this must-see dance show in Auckland
102571 2019-02-20 12:12:54Z Where to go in Auckland

Fall into a beautiful abyss at this must-see dance…

by Metro

A contemporary dance show that marries dystopian anxiety with raw energy is a must-see at the Auckland Arts Festival.

Read more
Climate change declaration 'politically charged' – Thames-Coromandel mayor
102563 2019-02-20 09:39:08Z Planet

Climate change declaration 'politically charged' –…

by Kate Gudsell

A push to get local authorities to sign up to a declaration on climate change is "politically charged and driven", the Thames-Coromandel mayor says.

Read more