Maud Lewis is one of Canada’s most recognizable artists and one of the most curious. Her simple, childlike paintings have seen national attention and have a polarizing effect on anyone with opinions about art. Now her life is being brought back into the spotlight by Aisling Walsh’s film ‘Maudie’ starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.
‘Simplicity’ is not the right word to describe Maud Lewis’s painting. Maud’s paintings might be simple, but that’s hardly their defining characteristic. They’re unfettered, modest, and comfortable – uncomplicated joys. They reflected Maud’s life: equally unfettered and uncomplicated, she lived with her husband in relative poverty in a small cabin in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, where she sold her paintings for a few dollars at a time. They were enough to keep her buoyant, and ultimately made her famous.
“I ain’t much for traveling anyway,” she once said, “as long as I have a brush in my hand and a window in front of me, I’m all right.”
In Walsh’s film, the landscape beyond the window is actually Newfoundland standing in for Nova Scotia. Choosing rather to recreate Maud’s small home and village on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Bay of Fundy. It makes for a slightly more austere backdrop, but suits Maud’s paintings perfectly. Each scene is framed like a work of art in itself, beautiful and rustic, just waiting to be painted.
It also sets the tone for the main story: the development of the relationship between Maud (Sally Hawkins) and Everett (Ethan Hawke). Two solitary figures in a barren landscape are more likely to gravitate together than not.
After answering a job posting for a live-in housekeeper, Maud moves into the small 10×12 cabin owned by Everett Lewis. Ferociously self-sufficient, the two begin to struggle almost immediately as they seek a balance between stubborn independence, and their growing mutual dependence on each other. They are a product of their environments: an orphan beholden to no one, and a woman affected by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis who refused to be considered a burden to anyone. If you’re determined to be stubbornly independent, you may as well be stubbornly independent together.
The two make for an odd couple. Hawkins’ portrayal of Maud is endearing, and while Hawke embodies an insufferably cantankerous old bear, able to eloquently express complex ideas with nothing more than a series of grunts, they’re a suited pair. The fish cart upsets when Maud cleverly (though kindly) takes over the role of managing Everett’s business, and Everett discovers he must quickly adjust to his new role especially as Maud’s paintings begin to sell.
The film creates a palpable fear of what these two characters would ever do without one another, while forcing us to wonder if they should even be together. There’s a shifting dichotomy that keeps them at odds, but supposedly it’s the relationships that endure hardship together that are the most durable.
Beautifully filmed, and featuring characters that are wonderfully portrayed in the tug of war of their relationship, ‘Maudie’ is a gift that reminds us to appreciate the small joys making up the bedrock of our lives.
‘Maudie’ is currently being shown across Atlantic Canada, including screenings in Nova Scotia (Bridgewater, Dartmouth, Lower Sackville, New Glasgow, New Minas, Yarmouth, Sydney), New Brunswick (Dieppe, Fredericton, Miramichi, Saint John), Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown, Summerside) and Newfoundland (St. John’s), as well as Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Victoria, and opens June 16 in the United States.