Last year’s release of Maudie, the tale of a Nova Scotia artist who suffers from crippling arthritis, looks set to cement Sally Hawkins as the master of powerful fragility. Wonderfully charming and quintessentially British, Hawkins has been a regular on the silver screen since 2004’s Layer Cake and Vera Drake. Never one to be pigeonholed, Hawkins has covered an incredible breadth of roles in her career to date, but always manages to bring a sense of vulnerability to each of her characters.
Prior to her breakthrough films in 2004, Hawkins already boasted various TV appearances, including a few minor roles in Little Britain, as well as the must-haves for any British actor’s CV: Casualty and Doctors. Layer Cake gave Hawkins the chance to share the screen with the likes of Daniel Craig, Sienna Miller and Michael Gambon in a truly British crime film. While her part was relatively small, Hawkins was memorable as the very much out-of-her-depth Slasher.
But it was the starring role in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky that really got Hawkins noticed. Sweet, irrepressibly happy Poppy remains to this day one of her most memorable performances. Constantly talking at 100 miles per hour and making a joke out of absolutely everything, Poppy is as endearing as she is annoying, managing to unwittingly wind up her driving instructor (Eddie Marsan) at every turn.
While she may appear blissfully happy on the outside, there’s a subtle fragility that Hawkins applies, adding a tinge of sadness to the role. In the wrong hands her character could have been completely overwhelming, but Hawkins manages to toe the fine line between exuberance and ignorance. Thoroughly compelling throughout, it was this charming performance that won Hawkins her first major award: Best Actress at the Golden Globes. No mean feat considering she was up against Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand, Rebecca Hall, and Emma Thompson.
At complete odds to the role of Poppy, two years later Hawkins played the role of Jill Tate in Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of Submarine. The straight-laced, bored housewife and mother of teenager Oliver, Jill blended in perfectly with her bland surroundings opposite husband Lloyd (the ever-wonderful Noah Taylor). Until, that is, an old flame (Paddy Considine) arrives back on the scene, and Jill morphs into a dizzy schoolgirl for the faux-mystical, martial arts-loving Graham. Ayoade stayed true to the book and captured its very off-kilter sense of humour perfectly, centring on Oliver Tate’s desperation to lose his virginity and also keep his mother and father together.
Despite Jill’s beige appearance and endlessly routine day-to-day existence, she is just as funny and odd as the rest of her family. Hawkins once again employed her very subtle brand of charm, making Jill a wonderfully endearing and sweet character in the middle of a story that eschews any traditional notions of family and love.
2013 saw Hawkins make her second appearance in a Woody Allen film with the sublime Blue Jasmine, as Ginger, Jasmine’s (Cate Blanchett) kindhearted and accommodating sister. Sweet, sad, and naive, Ginger was possibly the most perfect role for Hawkins to date. At this stage she had perfectly honed her unique and subtle style, managing to play characters with real weaknesses yet still give off a strong sense of control. In a film full of fantastic performances, Hawkins truly stood out – earning herself her very first Oscar and BAFTA nominations.
With Maudie out on August 4, Hawkins brings her perfect fragility to the role of Maud Lewis, a Nova Scotia artist who suffers from crippling arthritis, and starring opposite Ethan Hawke. Our Ersin described Maudie as “a joy to behold… In a modern world dominated by the rat race to define and achieve happiness, Maudie serves to remind us that a humble, simple life – a life well lived – is its own art form.” With The Shape of Water (2018), Paddington 2 (Nov 2017), and a Godzilla sequel (2019) all in the pipeline, it’s looking like Sally Hawkins might be in for some of the most successful years of an already stellar career.