You'll walk away from this biopic of Canadian folk painter Maud Lewis feeling uplifted, despite its rather depressing story. It's a film that reminds us that love can grow in the harshest environment, talent can be found in unlikely people, and creativity can bring joy to the darkest of lives.
Maud Lewis was a special woman, and in Irish director Aisling Walsh's film she's brought to life by a captivating Sally Hawkins, who physically transforms herself into character. "Born different" and crippled with arthritis from a young age, Maud was betrayed by her family and sent to live with an aunt in Nova Scotia. Despite being written off by society as having nothing to offer, she was determined to live a full life.
When local recluse and fish pedlar Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) advertises for a housekeeper to maintain his modest shack, Maud is the only applicant. Everett is cantankerous and abusive - both physically and verbally, and as far as he's concerned her status lags behind that of the dogs and chickens.
Walsh doesn't shy away from Everett's cruelty, and credit to Hawke for not making his character likeable, but it's hard to see Maud patiently making a life for herself with this man, becoming his wife.
What saves Maud is painting her colourful, upbeat landscapes. Self-taught, she paints the walls of Everett's house, then post cards, before moving to oils on hardboard. Through word of mouth, her landscapes, inspired by her cinematic surroundings, become world famous - even President Nixon commissions one. All the while, Maud and Everett remain living in their shack.
Bleak, cruel and painful would be one way to describe Maud's life, but, thanks to Hawkins' warm performance you come away elated by her optimism and resilience, respect for the beauty of art as a cathartic pursuit, and a renewed appreciation for your own life.
Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke
PG (Violence & sex scenes)
A bleak but uplifting and well-acted biopic.