If you’re poor, mistreated by family and suffering from truly crippling arthritis in your late 30s, you don’t want to endure all of that on the barren seaside moonscape of Nova Scotia, where winter comes like a whip in the hand of a tyrant.

This then is the plight of Maud Dowley (Sally Hawkins) who was born in 1903, not the best of years and certainly not in Nova Scotia where, in her tiny village, life was a daily parade of endurance.

The real Maud Dowley was a natural artist, a primitive painter much like Grandma Moses in the 40s.

Maud, who took what paints and brushes were available to her, painted on pieces of wood, glass, doors, walls and even ceilings, copying what she saw around her, and gave us enchantment.

When Irish director Aisling Walsh (“The Inspector Calls”) first shows us Maud, her parents have died, and she is left with a soulless brother seemingly offended by human imperfection.

The brother Charles (Zachary Bennett) pays their cold, puritanical aunt (Gabrielle Rose) to take Maud in, telling her it’s only temporary. Then one day he comes and announces that he has sold their childhood home, and that her berth in this chilly house is where she is to stay until she dies.

Now, like a bird with two broken wings with scarcely a warm branch to light on, Maude bravely sets out to seek a place in a warmer tree.

When local handyman and fish peddler Everett Lewis, (an amazing Ethan Hawke) who brings an even deeper meaning to taciturn, posts an ad for a housekeeper, Maude walks several miles to his two-room shack to apply for the job.

Everett, who seems threatened even by the air around him, is a broken soul who grew up in a local orphanage and still eats his lunch there.

When he reluctantly hires her, he makes it clear that she is nothing to him, “first comes the dog, then the chickens, then you,” he barks.

In a handful of scenes where abuse and disdain pile even more horror on Maud’s fragile bones, and when it seems that those of us sitting in the warm and comfortable darkness can take no more, it gradually becomes clear that this splintered child is one of God’s frail angels who walks amongst us with a message.

Give me your worst, Maud seems to say, your most unendurable, and I will endure; give me your most unsurvivable conditions, yet I will not only survive — but I will open doors to beauty where you did not even know beauty existed.

Maud, with every fiber of her heart and soul, with every ounce of courage she can muster, sings poetry to Everett’s troubled soul, and teaches him the magic of love.

Through the years, with patience and a sudden discovery by a visiting New York woman (Kari Matchett), Maude becomes a world famous primitive artist, and even hangs one of her works on the walls of then Vice President Richard Nixon’s West Wing office.

Sally Hawkins, a gifted actor who keeps surprising us all in one startling performance after another (“The Shape of Water” coming next) brings to “Maudie” a shattering realism.

There have been few actors in even fewer films where we have seen artists twist their bodies into shapes that make us wince with the pain they must be feeling. Daniel Day Lewis’s “My Left Foot,” and Eddie Redmayne’s “The Theory of Everything” are two such examples. In “Maudie,” Hawkins nails it.

“Maudie” is more a parable than just a film, and Hawkins’ work, always impressive, is more a vivid display of art than just a role.

Sally Hawkins reminds us that the actor’s body is an instrument that often plays soothing music, and sometimes, rarely, produces a majestic sonata.

Ethan Hawke’s work here is, in my opinion, the very best he’s ever shown. To watch him grow from a snarling, confused animal, to a tender partner, rendered from stone to lace by Maud’s gentle touch was wonderful.

Aisling Walsh, an Irish film and television veteran’s beautiful direction, and a perfectly wrought script by Sherry White.

“Maudie” is music seldom heard, art seldom seen, and a gift, in this sordid season of big screen disasters, to all of us.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

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