(12A) ★★★★

INSPIRED by true events, this delicately moving and quietly uplifting drama tells the story of the titular Maudie (Sally Hawkins), a woman born and living with extreme and debilitating arthritis in 1950s Nova Scotia.

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One day she gets a job working as a live-in housekeeper for local reclusive fishermen Everett (Ethan Hawke), who lives a simple existence in an isolated one room house. Maudie tries her best to fit in while Everett is reluctant for anything in his carefully organized world to change. The chalk and cheese duo then form an unlikely relationship while Maudie hones her talents as an amateur painter.

It would have been easy for this drama to come across as overly sentimental, manipulative or condescending as it lunged for the label of obvious Oscar-bait. But it avoids those trappings thanks to graceful, elegant direction by Irish filmmaker Aisling Walsh (Song for a Raggy Boy), an empathetic script by Sherry White (Relative Happiness) and an utterly spellbinding central performance by Hawkins. She’s one of our greatest acting talents, having been so wonderful in everything from Happy-Go-Lucky to Made in Dagenham and beyond. Here she does that rare acting magic trick of disappearing into the role, playing a woman who saw the world in her own unique way at a key of subtle gestures, loaded looks and wry smiles rather than bombastic speeches or “look at me” theatrics.

She finds unexpected layers of poignancy and emotion as Maudie deals with her unfortunate lot in life, shunned and with rocks thrown at her because of her physical condition and personality quirks. She sees the beauty in a harsh world that would then translate in her small scale artistic endeavour.

Hawke supports her, giving one of his finest performances as he shows himself in a light we haven’t really seen before. He brings depth to the gruff Everett, a product of both his circumstances and glass half empty outlook on life, cantankerous beyond his years as he comes to deeply care for Maudie even if he’s the type of man who’d rarely say it out loud.

In part, the film is about how one person in a relationship can bring out humanity and truth in the other where it might have seemed non-existent. The drama also tackles what it means to get to know someone, to get past judgement and accept them for who they are, all of which is staged against a landscape to be admired as a piece of art in its own right.

Maudie is a beautiful, endearingly unassuming little film full of textured emotion and nuggets of life truths painted with complex strokes.