Truth takes another beating in the bio-pic “Maudie.” Or, more to the point, Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis takes a beating at the hands of her Neanderthal husband, Everett. The problem is — it never happened. Yet, Irish director Aisling Walsh and writer Sherry White base their entire movie on Everett’s spousal abuse. Apparently, it wasn’t enough that Maud, crippled since childhood by a savage bout of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, never let her affliction stop her from painting kitschy wildlife scenes of birds, flowers and deer that caught the imaginations of fans across the world, including a certain vice president named Richard Nixon.

Truth is, Everett, a door-to-door fishmonger in seaside Nova Scotia, was Maud’s biggest cheerleader. He even bought his wife her first set of paints and brushes in addition to offering a lifetime of support. But in the movie, as portrayed by a gruff, snarly Ethan Hawke, Everett is a monster constantly verbally and physically assaulting Maud (Sally Hawkins), treating her more like his slave than a spouse. And in turn, Maud mostly sits around and takes it, as he belittles her and her art. I suppose it was the intent of the filmmakers to create drama, but it backfires miserably; making “Maudie” tough to sit through.

And it’s not just the constant maltreatment and meanness (Everett telling Maud she ranks behind his dogs and chickens in importance to him.); it’s a slow, plodding pace that drives you as mad as a dripping faucet. I get it — life in post-Depression Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, was gray and bleak, with money tight and opportunities small. But do we need to wallow in that misery long after the film has made its point? Adding further fatigue is the decision to present Maud’s story in typical, “greatest-hits” fashion over a 35-year period in which no one really ages, except for the gray highlights in their hair. And why do they both behave like they’re afflicted with Asperger’s? Maud’s handicap was physical, not mental. That said, don’t let the lazy, pedestrian storytelling drive you away from experiencing the year’s best — so far — performance by an actress. Hawkins is simply sensational. Both physically and emotionally, she nails Maud’s fight to never let life get her down. Shriveled and gnarled with twisted extremities, it’s a wonder Maud could move let alone paint. And Hawkins beautifully portrays that constant struggle to live a normal life, finding her scraps of happiness in her art. Like the works of Grandma Moses, her paintings are simple and childlike in their depictions of nature’s underappreciated glory. Hawkins enables you to share the joy in every brushstroke Maud makes, whether it’s on the walls, windows and doors of the tiny 12-by-13, one-room cabin she shares with Everett, or any makeshift object she can find to fill in for a canvas.

Director of photography Guy Godfree shoots with the same eye-for-beauty style, making every frame look like a gorgeous painting, as he allows more and more color seep in as Maud’s calming effect on Everett grows. Of course, Godfree is ably assisted by the breathtaking landscapes of the Newfoundland shore, filling in nicely for Nova Scotia. It’s pleasantly reminiscent of Dick Pope’s Oscar-nominated work on Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” also about a troubled painter. And a shout out to Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies fame for a sweet, mournful score that perfectly sets the film’s melancholy mood.

There’s also a nice supporting turn by Kari Matchett (doing her best Cate Blanchett imitation) as Sandra, a haughty New Yorker who during one of her summer stays on the shore, falls instantly in love with Maud’s work, buying her hand-painted Christmas cards by the dozens. Sandra also — conveniently — becomes Maud’s only friend and confidant. Her scenes with Hawkins are some of the movie’s best, but it’s the latter over whom we marvel. Playing a handicapped character has — sadly — become an almost automatic way to score a front-row seat at the Oscars. Just ask Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Day Lewis, Jane Wyman, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, et. al.

But there’s more to Hawkins’ performance than just contorting her rail-thin frame every which way. And that something is heart. She exudes it in spades — but apparently not enough to satisfy filmmakers out to blatantly attack tear ducts with heavy doses of sentimentality. Maud was an artist; not a martyr. But “Maudie” consistently uses pain and suffering to paint over the joy of a woman who looked out the window of her shack and saw “the whole of life, already framed.” That doesn’t sound like the words of a human punching bag; it sounds like someone who saw beauty everywhere she looked, which makes this often ugly story all the more confounding.

“Maudie”
Cast includes Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke and Kari Matchett.
(PG-13 for thematic content and some sexuality.)
Grade: B-