Amazon Prime Video
St Maud is another movie that got away. Released just before cinemas across the country closed their doors, we’ve been literally counting the days to its release on streaming networks. Finally, it’s available and though, inevitably, some of its visceral power must be diluted by viewing it on a smaller screen, it’s nonetheless an assured and confident debut from writer/director Rose Glass.
In a taut one hour, twenty-four minutes, the film manages to keep me guessing right up to the final shocking frame: is Maud simply deluded? Or is there something more to the series of religious ‘visions’ that afflict her on a day-to-day basis? The result, though unremittingly bleak, is undeniably compelling.
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a former nurse, banished from the hospital where she formally worked for reasons that are only hinted at. We soon learn that ‘Maud’ isn’t even her real name, which explains how she comes to be working in the private sector, caring for the tragic Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) in her home. Amanda is a former dancer and choreographer, a leading light of the theatrical world, now gradually succumbing to the ravages of cancer of the spine, unable to stand, let alone perform a pirouette.
At first, Maud seems like the perfect carer – polite, attentive and gentle – but, as she and Amanda become closer, so Maud is increasingly convinced that Amanda is transgressing God’s laws. Initially, this merely encourages Maud to overstep the mark as a carer, meddling in Amanda’s personal life – but it’s only a matter of time before the mounting conflict results in tragedy.
Set in a sleazy, rain-splashed Scarborough, Glass takes every opportunity to depict the seaside resort as some kind of hell on earth, employing skewed perspectives, even turning the camera lens upside down at key moments in the narrative. The extended sequence where Maud attempts to go out for a ‘night on the town’ is unlikely to put the place on the tourist maps. Clark is phenomenal in the lead role, depicting Maud as an uneasy mixture of smiling geniality and twisted anxiety. I never know which aspect is going to emerge at any given moment, and it’s this uncertainty that keeps me on the edge of my seat throughout.
For Rose Glass, the timing has been disastrous, but it’s interesting to note that, despite everything, St Maud managed to find its way onto many critics’ top-ten films for 2020.’ I’m late to the game but have to agree: this is an astonishing first flight for a director. I look forward to seeing where she goes next.