Maud Lewis was an artist in rural Nova Scotia in the 1930’s who suffered crippling arthritis and physical deformation, an unpleasant immediate family and an initially uncaring selfish boss, then husband to become one of North America’s most respected and popular art-naïve* painters.

Frustrated and looking to get away from her over-protective family, Maud answers an advertisement from bachelor Everett Lewis for a housekeeper to look after him and stay with him in his tiny 12 x 12 foot house.

Lewis is a scruffy curmudgeon, fixed in his ways and not impressed with the slight woman who turns up for the job. She convinces him but there are rules and woe betide if she gets on the wrong side of them and/or him.

Everett is not convinced she’s a particularly good housekeeper and the time she spends painting on cards and the walls of his house annoy him though he tolerates both. Its fair to say that they don’t immediately hit it off but there is the kernel of mutual respect there.

Through chance Maud’s paintings start to gain attention and sell. As such she takes ascendance in the relationship, at least financially. Everett realises this and decides to push her paintings. Maud, sensitive to this change of circumstances, cleverly manipulates things enough to still make him feel as if he is the man of the house. Nothing is said directly it’s just left to the exchanges between them, brilliantly furnished by Sherry White’s screenplay.

As the years pass the relationship deepens beyond mutual respect to something stronger. Life continues to be tough as they don’t move from Everett’s house, and the income while regular, is modest. They are content.

That’s broken when Maud’s brother visits. He’s given short shrift but mentions that her Aunt Ida is ill. Maud visits and there’s a dreadful revelation from Ida that turns Maud’s world upside down.

The success of the film hinges on several aspects, most notably the performances of Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Hawkins’s is an extraordinary performance deftly handling Maud’s affliction at the same time conveying her keen intelligence and her determination to be treated as an equal and with respect. Hawke is a revelation with what on paper could look like a one-dimensional character, he imbues Everett with extraordinary depth and sensitivity, as he slowly comes to truly understand his wife and his feelings towards her.

Director Aisling Walsh and director of photography Guy Godfree do justice to the subject and the characters carefully developing the relationship between Maud and Everett. Setting this with the vibrant colours of Maud’s paintings and those in turn complementing the gritty rural beauty of the landscape.

*For the uninitiated Art Naïve is a somewhat condescending term for artists who lack formal education and training in art history, technique and perspective.