Aisling Walsh’s new bio-pic Maudie unfolds the quiet life of Maud Lewis, who in time became Canada’s treasured folk artist. In the 1930s, young Maud (Sally Hawkins) is living in a tiny fishing village in Nova Scotia; she has a bum leg from arthritis and is a bit odd.
But her fierce spirit results in her seeking employment with a taciturn fisherman named Everett (Ethan Hawke), who inexplicably needs a housekeeper for his ramshackle two-room cottage. There’s not a courtship, so much as a relationship of convenience — Maud sees a life of greater independence with Everett than she had living with her aunt — so the two marry. Thus settled, Maud has more time for painting, and Everett becomes marginally more considerate.
There’s not much more plot than that — painting gives Maud’s life meaning, and Maud gives grumpy Everett’s life meaning. But it’s a sweet film (despite the couple’s unrelenting poverty and Maud’s often difficult day-to-day life), and both actors manage to overcome somewhat mannered performances to be quite affecting. The film does put a rosy spin on what seems to be a complicated, and perhaps, by contemporary standards, not ideal marriage. In reality, the couple stayed together for decades, until Maud’s death in 1970.
Maud’s works are deceptively simple paintings — often done on scrap wood or paper — featuring bright colors and images of nature, particularly flowers. They are childlike and charming, reflecting Maud’s generally sunny disposition and her gratitude for life’s simple pleasures. For instance, she loves windows, seeing them as artists’ guides, already helpfully framing the marvelous world outside.