‘The whole of life, already framed, right there.‘
A good biopic should reflect the bio the pic is about. It needs to reflect the personality of its central focus, introducing the viewer to them and their world and, for the entirety of its running time, allow us to follow and maybe (hopefully!) even understand their experience. Maudie, the biopic about Canadian artist Maud Lewis (played by Sally Hawkins), manages to emulate the folksy/cutesy/almost-real-sy (I’m loathe to use the term ‘quirky’) nature of its subject and her artwork. And, on a slightly meta level, the film may end up being as undeservedly forgotten and underappreciated as Maud herself. Released at an awkward time of the cinematic calendar, August being in the midst of Blockbuster season and just before Oscar Bait season, and with unfairly little advertising, it’s a gem that needs love and warrants much promotion.
First of all it has everything you could want from a good biopic – a triumph against adversity, love in the unlikeliest of circumstances and characters who are stranger than fiction. Within a running time of just under two hours we get to spend decades with Maud, from her ‘rebellious’ act (it starts in the 1930s after all!) of applying for the position of live-in housekeeper to a curmudgeonly bachelor of a fisherman called Everett (played by Ethan Hawke) to their sweetly, strangely, slowly and softly(ish!) falling in love to Maud’s becoming a national celebrity thanks to press coverage of her artwork – we bear witness to every step of Maud’s pathos-filled journey. Moments happen that seem so unlikely that upon the credits rolling you feel an instantaneous urge to call upon Google to verify, which it does for the most part.
The true reason why Maudie is a hidden gem is its central performances. Hawkins and Hawke as a pairing looks as good as it phonetically and alliteratively sounds. Both roles require physical performances, with Hawkins as Maud skilfully portraying the rheumatoid arthritis that affected her to an increasingly degenerative extent throughout her life but which she refused to allow to impact on her life and her painting. Anyone who has seen Hawkins prior will know of her extraordinary talent, Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and Blue Jasmine (2013), to name but two examples. Maudie shows just how great she is, showcasing a stellar performance that is a captivating bundle of warmth and fragility in equal measure.
Hawke as her eventual husband Everett rises to the occasion as her perpetually pained and permanently perturbed counterpart. He’s a man riddled by neuroses he cannot understand and is presumed by all to be incapable of love – be that giving or receiving – Maud believes otherwise. It’s a more subtle performance, shown more through the silences than dialogue; his micro expressions of frequent bewilderment and confusion reveal just how much he loves Maud even when he is unable to actually say it.
The story itself may be on the slight side, breezing through the years, but with must-see performances that reflect the subject – gentle, modest and full of heart.