IT is not hard to understand why the paintings of Canadian folk artist Maudie Dowley drew worldwide interest, including that of US President Richard Nixon. Modest and dulcet, Maudie’s paintings give a charming window into a small-town, rural existence of bright colours and humble outdoor scenes.
Yet, as depicted in Aisling Walsh’s 2017 biographical film, Maudie’s life was not quite as cheerful as her paintings might suggest. It had its fair share of physical and mental suffering. It is to her eternal credit that her paintings cut across these hardships and displayed an inner-warmth and an innocent outlook on life that many of us wrapped up in constant urban frenzy could benefit from.
Walsh’s film joins Maudie (Sally Hawkins) in her mid-30s as she gets a job as a live-in maid for a local Nova Scotian fish peddle, Everett Lewis. Maudie moves into Everett’s two-room home, a living situation that puts her gentleness and his curtness under the same small roof.
Despite the frictions that this divergent coupling creates, the two soon become involved in a romantic relationship. It is the beginning of a marriage that has a genuine love and connection but it is also blighted by Everett’s masculine insecurities and his consequential acts of abuse.
He is harsh enough to belittle Maudie by telling her she is lower in the pecking order than the chickens. At his worst, he strikes her for disobeying orders.
Everett’s cruel treatment is nothing new to Maudie. A sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis which limits movement in her hands and causes a limp, she has always been horribly mistreated by those close to her – including one tragic incident involving a child Maudie had taken away from her when she was younger.
Even still, Maudie’s paintings act to liberate her from this pain and bring light to Everett’s dingy home. She paints flowers and chickens on the walls before her work starts to transcend their modest setting and attract the attention of a camera crew.
Due to her physical limitations, much of Maudie’s work is done looking through windows rather than outside and engaging with the world around her. This perspective becomes a theme that Walsh deals with a delicate brush – at one point showing Everett through a dirty window – a reflection perhaps of his murky view of the world or his inability to connect fully with Maudie.
If Maudie’s work came from looking out of the window and finding colourful joys, Walsh’s film reverses the view and allows us to look at the life of the woman behind the window.
Maudie is an honest and touching portrait of a unique artist, given life by Michael Timmins’ plaintive score and a terrific physical performance from Sally Hawkins. One to be mentioned in the same breath as Andrew Garfield’s in Breathe and Eddie Redmayne’s in The Theory of Everything.
This is wonderful work from Walsh and her team. This is the type of female-led story we could benefit from more of.
Maudie is available to watch on Sky Cinema
This was review 9/30 in April’s Monthly Film Challenge – female filmmakers.