The film is based on true life story of Nova Scotian artist Maud Lewis, who was born with physical deformities in her fingers and spine and suffered from crippling arthritis. Born in 1903, she married Everett Lewis, a fish peddler when she was 34 and lived with him in poverty in his tiny one room up one down cottage with no electricity and running water, until her death aged 67 in 1970.
I tell you all that because the timeline of the film, directed by Irish Aisling Walsh and written by Canadian Sherry White is not very specific, preferring to emphasise the unchanging simplicity and remoteness of Maudie and Everett’s life in the beautiful but frequently harsh Nova Scotian landscape.
The film presents Maudie’s life story as both a triumph of artistic expression over her physical and social challenges and an unusual love story.
After her mother dies, Maudie (Hawkins) is sent by her brother Charles (Zachary Bennett) to live with her strict aunt (Gabrielle Rose), who disapproves of her painting. Yearning for more freedom, Maudie answers an advertisement from grumpy middle aged bachelor Everett (Hawke) for a live in housemaid.
Everett, like Maudie, is not great on communication and at first he treats her like a slave. But she persuades him to let her cover every surface of the house – walls, windows, stairs, even the pots and pans – with her paintings, which she also creates on pieces of card or anything else she can find. A friendly neighbour (Matchett) is charmed by Maudie’s paintings. She encourages Everett to start selling Maudie’s work as small cards door to door with his fish and eventually a measure of recognition comes to her late in her life via a television news story. While along the way a deeply loving but rarely expressed bond develops between Maudie and Everett.
The film is perhaps a little overlong and meandering in its story telling. But it does have two fine performances from Hawkins and Hawke as the Lewises. Hawkins gives us a woman of indomitable spirit and optimism, which shines through the physical challenges of the role and the relationship between her and Hawke as the emotionally isolated and inarticulate Everett, who eventually learns to love, is beautifully nuanced.
The other big plus of the film is the story of Maudie’s paintings of the world around her – flowers, trees, animals and people. Described as “folk art” nowadays, they have the simple and direct naivety of a child’s eye, which is often found in untrained artists like Maud such as Henri Rousseau but with an instinctive sense of composition, colour and life, which makes them leap out off the canvas – or in Maud’s case the cardboard, the wall or the window. They are really exciting and beautiful.