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Home Op-Ed Women star front and centre in two new releases

Women star front and centre in two new releases

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Joy can be found even in suffering and simplicity
by Alan Charlton

MAUDIE;
THIER FINEST

In cinemas throughout the Lower Mainland


Photo Caption: Sally Hawkins plays Irish-Canadian artist Maud Lewis in Maudie, a biographical-drama. Alan Charlton writes Maudie is “a film about a remarkable woman ... brought to life by a brilliant actress.” (Photo by Duncan Deyoung / Courtesy of Mongrel Media)

It has become a cliché to complain about the lack of recognition given to women in the film industry. Despite that, two current releases certainly put women front and centre.

MAUDIE, a largely fictionalized version of the life of Maud Lewis, the Nova Scotian folk artist, presents an engaging and entertaining look at a woman who triumphed over adversity while expressing through her naïve painting a passionate and optimistic view of the world.

Having been largely written off by her family because of her debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, Maud as an adult went to work as a housekeeper to Everett Lewis, a curmudgeonly and abusive loner.

In his tiny, one bedroom shack Maud relieved the drudgery of her life by painting vivid, optimistic and delightfully engaging pictures of the world as she chose to see it – all this despite her arthritis, which made it difficult for her even to hold a paintbrush.

The joyful simplicity of her art was eventually recognized, even being chosen to hang on the walls of the White House. Selling originally for a couple of dollars, today her works commands thousands of dollars.

While many of the details of her life remain unknown, film screen writer Sherry White has focused on what seem to be a reel-life love story between the oddly matched Everett and Maud.

Ethan Hawke, rather surprisingly cast as Everett, turns in a convincing portrait of a man who is an outsider and who clearly has complex emotional issues. However, the film belongs above to Sally Hawkins who conveys the strength, resilience, humour and passionate conviction of Maud in an unforgettably radiant portrait.

MAUDIE is not only a film of which Canada can be proud. More than that, although directed by a man, the talented Aisling Walsh, it is also a film about a remarkable woman and brought to life by a brilliant actress. Above all, it is a film which everyone will enjoy as an antidote to much of the cynicism and negativity which seems so much a part of the world today. Put this on your “must see” list of movies.

In a very different vein, the film THEIR FINEST is ostensibly about an attempt during the Second World War to produce a propaganda movie with a feminine touch by adding to the script-writing team a woman to write the women’s dialogue, slightingly referred to as “slop.” Indeed, the film certainly reflects male chauvinism in a variety of ways, including making the assumption that a female screen-writer should be paid less than a male.

Had the film retained this topic of gender equality as its main focus, it might have been easier to embrace. However, not content with satirizing sexist attitudes of the past (relevant as this may still be today), the film also seems to satirize the whole process of film-making as it shows the scriptwriters putting a film together in a virtual “paint by numbers” process which aims at including a whole series of clichés – a male hero, a dog, and a happy ending.

As if this were not enough, the surface plot of the film, following the young female script writer’s adventures in movie-making land, seems to be an attempt to satirize film-making in general by echoing the clichés the film is mocking—another “paint by numbers’ assemblage.

Despite this apparent confusion of purpose, the film comes with its rewards. For those who remember British wartime films, it serves as a reminder of those daunting days of air raids and rationing.

It it will also bring back memories of films such as MILLIONS LIKE US, THE FIRST OF THE FEW and THE WAY AHEAD – films which dealt with the tragedies of war, but which were intended to boost spirits at home.

It is ironic that the best propaganda film of that time was actually Olivier’s production of HENRY V, and a hint of this is given in THEIR FINEST with an entirely gratuitous recital of a Shakespeare speech by Jeremy Irons.

Thus the film serves as an homage to the cinema of that period while its wartime romance both reflects the time yet offers a modern-day appeal. As if this were not enough, the incomparable Bill Nighy provides immense fun laughing at himself – with perhaps a nod in the direction of Noel Coward and IN WHICH WE SERVE.

In other words, THEIR FINEST, despite its confusion of purpose, offers an entertaining narrative with nostalgia, and a great deal more for one’s money than do most other films. It may not be perfect, but it’s entertaining.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 May 2017 10:46  

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