Directed by an Irish-woman and set in Nova Scotia, Aisling Walsh’s Maudie (2017) centers on the true life story of the eponymous Maud Lewis, a self-taught artist who overcame physical disability to become one of Canada’s most revered folk artists. The film opens after her parents’ death, when she’s left in the care of her inconvenienced aunt. Feeling stifled, Maud finds both refuge and personal empowerment as a housekeeper of an indecorous fish peddler, Everett.
Often Maudie is difficult to watch. Maud’s situation doesn’t improve after she moves into Everett’s humble abode and is instructed that “There’s me. There’s the dogs. There’s the chickens, and then there’s you.” Yet, I cannot but fall in love with Sally Hawkins cheeky and nuanced performance, a feeling that grows into an immense protection and fear for her character in the hands of such cruelty.
Emboldened by their eventual marriage, Maud manifests her bright inward disposition by painting drab ordinary domestic items into gleeful scenes of bright outdoor fun. Through her art, she re-positions herself out of a perceived victimhood and gives herself the time and space for her expressive and imaginative artistic streak to shine through. Her work eventually makes its way to Nixon’s White House.
Walsh gives us a female character who isn’t hell-bent on attacking the misogynistic power pervading her world. Rather, Maudie is a realistic representation of the everyday experience of many savvy women around the world. Her story focuses on the draining realities of babysitting and accepting the everyday misogyny, whilst simultaneously accomplishing her own personal goals, however big or small. Her tenacity comes not through controlling violence and emotional abuse, but through her own coping mechanisms and understated mastery of the everyday challenges that confront her.
This profoundly resonates with me. Walsh never tries to redeem Everett and his bore-ish behaviour. Walsh’s non-judgement gives the audience space to come to their own interpretation of the couple. In my eyes, the film lands as an emotionally truthful biopic wherein a sense of hope and levity is presented in a woman who has a thirst to leave her mark in the midst of the overbearing sadness of her circumstances.
Maudie is available for viewing in selected theaters across the US and digitally on Starz, and can be purchased on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, VUDUudu, and YouTube. Follow Maudie on Facebook and the film’s website, and Aisling Walsh on Twitter.