True story of an artist comes to life in Hawkins' hands

We need more movies starring Sally Hawkins.

If you haven't seen 2008's “Happy-Go-Lucky,” do yourself a favor and hunt that one down. You'll see what I mean.

In “Maudie,” Hawkins again proves to be the most valuable piece of a really good movie, the performance that elevates the movie into something not just good, but special.

It's a really solid movie, but it's a superlative performance.

Based on a true story, “Maudie” tells the story of Maud (Hawkins), an arthritic woman living in Nova Scotia under the care of her aunt. When her brother decides to sell the family home without Maud's permission, she decides it's time to strike out on her own.

At a nearby shop, local fishmonger Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) posts an ad for a housekeeper. The frail Maud makes the long walk to apply, but Everett immediately rejects her … until her persistence and his lack of other options makes the choice clear.

This sets up an unexpected relationship between a bitter man and a warm-spirited woman with boundless optimism and a love for painting.

And as the years pass, that love for painting becomes more than a hobby in a lovely testament to the artistic spirit.

Director Aisling Walsh, working from a script by Sherry White, traverses this relationship as it unfolds over the years, developing big-hearted feeling while generally managing to steer clear of sentimentality. That's no small feat.

It's also, at times, a troubling relationship. Hawke's Everett is a difficult man, set in a hard-working mentality and frugality that make him cold on the surface. Hawke, coincidentally, is great in a role that calls for a lot of feeling bubbling beneath a layer of stoicism.

But, again, Hawke's performance wouldn't resonate without Hawkins' turn as Maud. A woman prematurely affected by arthritis is the kind of role that some actors would take for the chance to show off. (See Robert Downey Jr.'s “Tropic Thunder” speech for a tasteless but often accurate representation of actors playing characters with disabilities.)

Hawkins goes beyond the physical portrayal. It's moving enough watching an artist paint through pained and painful movements. But her performance is also a life-affirming depiction of a woman who saw the world differently and certainly saw Everett differently. She is the sun that shines through this movie, and it's a performance worth seeing on its own.