Occasionally, some of the parts of a piece of work are greater than the whole. Two of the most underrated actors working today elevate Maudie, a sweet tale of human spirit and finding love in hopeless places, to a higher plane. Watching Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke work together is a singularly pleasurable viewing experience.
Aisling Walsh’s tale of the true story of Maud Lewis is indeed heart-warming and capably put together, but could so easily have descended into forgettable cliché or TV movie irrelevance. On occasion it does, but having Hawkins and Hawke on screen together ensures it doesn’t last long.
Maud Lewis was a Canadian folk artist who suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She lived in less accepting times, her affliction deeming her insignificant in all eyes, including her own family. Despite this, she struck out on her own, answering an advertisement for a maid left by Everett Lewis, a fish peddler living in the countryside. The two eventually marry and find a peace with life in each other’s company.
Ethan Hawke is perhaps best known for empathetic, even endearing characters, but here he plays a man of few words, harsh to those around him, expecting little from life, emanating little spirit. This grumbling, occasionally violent man is instantly detestable, and it is to Hawke’s credit that he presents him thus but manages to conceal an underlying current of generosity and care. It’s so faint you almost miss it, the subtlety of the acting and indeed the adept direction making Everett Lewis an engaging character, warts and all.
It's hard to choose a star of the show between the two leads, but Hawkins shades it on sheer screen time. Her performance lights up every scene, from her knowing smile to her reproachful scowl, from her darkest depths to her uncontainable vitality. Hawkins deals with Maud’s physical disability with the grace expected of an actor of her stature, lending her a sympathy without exaggeration. Maud was not meant to be limited by her environment - she dreams only of painting happily as a married woman, bewildering the unbelievers.
The tale of Maud Lewis is a simple and well-trodden filmic path, one that Aisling Walsh and writer Sherry White traverse ably without adding anything unique to the canon. Yet Maudie is entirely worth it to spend the time in the company of two actors that really need to start getting more attention for their abilities.