This most excellent Irish-Canadian co-production brings to life the story of rural Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis. British actress Sally Hawkins is phenomenal as the tiny woman who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis but is treated by her family as if she is mentally incapable. To escape their oppressiveness she takes a job as live-in housekeeper to local crank Everett Lewis and the rest of the movie rarely leaves their 10 by 10 shack of a house, which Maud enlivens with her art. (Their house is now preserved in its entirety at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax).
The movie is surprisingly riveting given its small scope which focusses almost exclusively on the relationship between Maud and Everett (played with admirable restraint by Ethan Hawke). Cape Breton’s own Billy MacLellan provides some comic relief as Everett’s only friend, Frank the fisherman. Canadian actress Kari Matchett plays Sandra, a New Yorker with a summer house in the Lewises small town of Digby, Nova Scotia who befriends the tiny painter.
The movie gives very short shrift to discussing the “Is it Art?” question that Lewis’s self-taught style begs. At one point a shopkeeper, grudging selling Maud’s painted cards says: “I don’t see why people pay money for these, my 4 year old son could do this.” Also, the presence of the character of Sandra, who is the first to notice the potential of Maud’s art, does seem to promulgate the conceit that art gets defined as such by big city tastemakers who take an interest.