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Stars: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke

Director: Aisling Walsh

As far as I'm concerned, we might just as well hand next year's Best Actress Oscar to Hawkins right now for this wonderful performance; you're not likely to see a better, nor even an equal, this side of next March.

We meet her true-life character, Maudie, arthritically disabled and unwanted as, lodged with an unsympathetic aunt (Gabrielle Rose), she learns that her smarmy brother (Zachary Bennett) has sold the family home from under her, and she has nowhere to go.

Nowhere that is, until she hears Everett Lewis (Hawke), an illiterate, monosyllabic backwoodsman ask the local shopkeeper in their Nova Scotia town to put up a notice for a housemaid. Sensing a chance to escape Aunt Ida, Maudie somehow wedges herself into his life, even though he says and does horrible things to her, and only allows her to explore her talent for painting under suffrance, while he sells fish and chopped wood and works at the local orphanage.

But eventually they do marry and Maudie's 'primitive' paintings bring them in money as well as, as far as Everett is concerned, unwanted notoriety.

Hawke is very, very good here, but Hawkins is simply astounding. Her whole demeanour is amazing: the drawling speech, sly glances from beneath unruly hair, the dragging feet and extraordinarily hunched body. This is a heart-wrenching acting masterclass of the highest quality, within a screenplay by Sherry White whose characters, even awful Aunt Ida, are painfully well drawn.

Painstaking, caring direction by Walsh and lovely photography of the prettily bleak Nova Scotia landscape by Guy Godfree carve out a perfect framework for the awful beauty of an incredible central performance which could so easily have fallen into caricature, but is, instead, something sublime.

Only a scene where Everett hits Maudie in public hits a jarring note: it just doesn't ring true in the context of the story.

David Quinlan

Canada/Ireland 2016. UK Distributor: Sony (Sony Pictures Classics). Technicolor.
114 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 30 Jul 2017