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Sally Hawkins brings Nova Scotia folk artist to life

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HER RIGHT HAND  Painter Maud Lewis gets the bio-pic treatment in new film from Aisling Walsh.
  • HER RIGHT HAND Painter Maud Lewis gets the bio-pic treatment in new film from Aisling Walsh.

The endearingly gawky Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) stars in Maudie, and it's one of the best ever cinematic portraits of a character constrained by her body, up there with My Left Foot.

The Nova Scotia outsider artist Maud Lewis (Hawkins) was bent over with juvenile arthritis with hands so clawed she eventually had to hold the brushes with her wrists. Lewis made a small name for herself, painting her world—the pets she had, or wished she had, and flowers for every season.

She lived in a 10-by-12-foot shack in Nova Scotia with her fish-peddling husband, Everett (Ethan Hawke), selling her paintings by the roadside as souvenirs. Because of her immobility, Lewis couldn't paint very big canvases. Much of her work has disappeared.

Maudie shows how Lewis' life changed when she left her domineering aunt and took a job with Everett, a scowling, almost vicious grownup orphan with a bad temper. Hawke has to stretch—he's a tenor trying to sing bass—though it's clear why he was cast; being a warm, handsome actor, Hawke lets you forgive Everett for his meanness.

Hawkins' unguarded grin, the husky voice from too many cigs, the candidness and sidelong ways are disarming. There is a secret world inside her; left alone, she talks a bit to herself, or to the chickens, though Hawkins' Maud isn't a simpleton, and the film has plenty of salt to it. In one poignant scene, she brings a hen to the chopping block: "Yeah. It's time. You know, don't you?"

Maudie would be captivating even if its main character had never painted a lick.

'Maudie' opens July 7 at Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.525.8909.

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