‘Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot – Oscar. Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man – Oscar. John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter – Oscar. You’re guaranteed an Oscar if you play a mental.’ Kate Winslet in Extras, written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.
We’re all outsiders in a way, or at some time in our lives. Gingers, left-handed, bald, too fat, too thin, disabled, gay, wrong colour, poor, squinty-eyed or slack-jawed, crippled, hunch-backed, not very bright, slow, incontinent, inarticulate – there are few amongst us who are perfect. And so we are all at the mercy of a big world, often unkind and cruel or thoughtless and mocking.
Maud is an outsider for us all and Maudie is a film that shows us that for every outsider there is an inside somewhere, even though it isn’t always clear where it is or how to get there. Maud has unspecified issues – arthritic yes with difficulty in walking and slow or backward but we aren’t shown quite why or how, although there are glimpses of an unutterably cruel past. But what is important is not how she got here but where she is going.
Maud lives with her Aunt Ida in an unloving, uneasy fractured relationship; her wicked brother Charles sells their house, left to him when their mother dies and Maud is effectively abandoned to Ida’s grudging mercies.
Hanging around the general store in town one day, in comes a man – Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), large and lumbering, quick to rage, clearly illiterate. He asks the shop-keeper to write him a sign to say he is seeking a house-maid. Maud rips the notice down from the notice-board and trudges, limping, leg-dragging, painfully slowly but ever persistent to Everett’s shack on the edge of small-town Nova Scotia.
And so begins their uneasy, initially cold, sometimes abusive but ultimately loving relationship and eventual marriage. Everett is another outsider, raised in an orphanage although we never learn his back story. He scrapes a meagre living, selling fish and bits of wood to the townsfolk. He pushes a big wheel-barrow across the fields and soon Maud sits in the wheel-barrow and swings her legs.
‘There’s me,’ says Everett, ‘then the dogs, then the chickens and then you.’
Bereft of company, Maud finds a tin of paint in the shack and starts to draw. Tentatively at first, simple naïve representations of flowers and birds on the walls of the shack. She has an innate skill and a wide-eyed sense of wonder about the world she sees. An outsider in normal social company, she is an insider when it comes to nature; nature does not shun her or judge her, or laugh at her, or throw rocks at her like the school-boys do. One day, Maud is alone in the shack when a fancy lady from New York – Sandra – visits to complain about Everett failing to deliver her fish. Spying some of Maud’s paintings, she immediately spots Maud’s talent and offers to buy some examples of her work – for 5 cents.
Maud’s fame grows and she advertises ‘Paintings for Sale’ in the window of the shack. Soon people from all over the country are writing to her, asking for painting, including Vice President Nixon. ‘I’ll send him one,’ says Maud, ‘if he sends money.’ As Maud flourishes, Everett’s fish-selling brings in less money but his love for her and their dependence on each other grows and develops.
Maud harbours a dark and terrible tragic secret and the reveal is heart-breaking; the scene plays out in silence, told in furtive glances and stolen glimpses of a world that might have been. But there is no way back in for Maud and she clings to Everett, her hard shoulder on the hard road of her life.
Maud is a chronic heavy smoker and develops emphysema – soon she can only walk a few halting steps and her growing arthritis makes it harder to hold the brush. ‘You’d better get another dog,’ she says to Everett, as she feels the end drawing near. ‘I don’t want another dog’, he says. She dies peacefully with Everett by her side. He goes back to the shack, removes the paintings for sale sign and retreats inside and closes the door; the film fades to black as he shuts out an unwelcome world.
Maudie (based on a true story) is a beautiful, sad, but uplifting and intensely moving film. The Nova Scotia landscape is dull, bleak and grey, wind-swept and empty. The changing seasons are shown simply – the ground is covered with snow-drifts or it isn’t but rarely does the sun shine and Maud always wears a coat. The feel of the film reminded me of Manchester by the Sea – that same small-town bleakness where it always seems to be raining. But it doesn’t rain in Maud’s heart. It’s a film to show all outsiders that somewhere there’s an inside.
Sally Hawkins is superb – she plays Maud simply but effectively; the acting is there but it isn’t over-blown or too obvious or showy. It is under-stated and her eyes, gazing through her shock of hair, upwards from her hunched and little crippled body, show all.
Guaranteed to win an Oscar. And well deserved.