Content Note: This article contains mentions of domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues
This striking adaptation of the memories of Stephanie Land, Housekeeper: hard work, low wages and a mother’s will to survive (2019) isn’t just another series fresh off the Netflix treadmill. Heartbreaking but tender portrayal of a mother struggling to provide for herself and her daughter after fleeing an emotionally abusive relationship, the miniseries is carried by the incredibly moving performances of real-life mother-daughter duo Margaret Qualley and Andie MacDowell.
The series opens in the dark as 23-year-old Alex (Margaret Qualley) is awake next to her boyfriend Sean (Nick Robinson). As he falls asleep, she silently slips out of their mobile home with nothing but her two-year-old daughter, Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet), and a small bag of goods in tow. From behind the comfort of our screens, we watch her embark on a ten-episode journey of independence. Meanwhile, Alex and Maddy move nine times, alternating between the domestic violence shelter, his mother’s camper van, and at one point the house of Alex Nate’s friend (Raymond Ablack), a ” seemingly typical ‘nice guy’ whose apparent generosity hides his underlying romantic desire for Alex, hidden under the veneer of altruism.
Far from the usual representations of misery prone to porn misery, Maid features an intimate story about a mother’s tenacity and the stresses of poverty. The show is certainly not afraid of ugly realities; the abuse to which Alex is subjected by Sean and his encounters with the astounding ineptitude of government aid are laid bare onscreen, no longer hidden behind closed doors. Yet the show is also emphatically hopeful. Between the hectic scenes of Alex’s struggle for independence are the tender moments she spends with her daughter, Maddy, and the quiet, but rare moments she finds to escape her passion for life. ‘writing.
“Between the hectic scenes of Alex’s struggle for independence are the tender moments she spends with her daughter”
Follow Alex as she juggles child care expenses, a grueling job of cleaning homes, and the stress of her relationships, as one captivating cast tells: Robinson’s performance as Sean is nuanced and even compassionate – he’s both the villainous assailant of Alex, but also a man plagued by alcohol addiction, desperately trying to do better for his daughter. As he moves in and out of sobriety, alternating between anger and remorse, we begin to understand the extent of the challenge Alex faces in trying to escape his cyclical behaviors. Meanwhile, MacDowell is captivating as Alex’s mother, Paula, a free-spirited artist living with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. MacDowell’s Paula is a strong-willed and powerfully creative person, yet at the same time heartbreaking self-destruct. Alex’s encounters with Paula are often emotional, at times explosive, in contrast to Alex’s gentle interactions with Maddy.
“We observe the very fabric of Alex’s environment seems to overwhelm her”
Set in the fictional town of Port Hampstead, USA, the show was filmed amid the beaches and woods of Greater Victoria, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. I couldn’t help but notice the pathetic fallacy of the surroundings – the gray skies and dark pine trees provide a moody and at times ominous backdrop to the show. Simple cinematography appeals to our emotions: While Maddy spends time with her father, a silent shot of Alex lying despondently on his bed, staring at the empty spot where Maddy isn’t, is the perfect example of Alex’s “show, don’t say” desperation.
While overall the series opts for a stripped-down aesthetic, the subtlety of the story is heightened by abstract cinematic elements that remind us as we watch events unfold through Alex’s eyes – after all, she appears. in every scene of the series. Often times Alex’s financial calculations are shown on screen, sometimes down to negative numbers as she struggles to stay afloat. In one episode, during a particularly dark time when Alex and Maddy are forced to return to Sean’s, the staging becomes less realistic and more visually poetic. We watch the very fabric of Alex’s environment seem to overwhelm her; the couch she’s lying on, catatonic and depressed, literally engulfs her, and the surrounding forest looms ominously above a dark hole from which Alex cannot escape. Moments like this once again remind us of Alex’s imaginative way of interpreting the world around him, expressed through his writing.
Thanks to Alex’s work as an eponymous Maid, she meets a wide and at times amusing array of characters and lifestyles, fueling her literary creativity. In the words of Alex / Stéphanie: “When I think of the house I want for my daughter and me, it is not big and full of things. Our space is a home … because we love each other there. I watched this show at the end of Michaelmas’s term. In the winter time between Black Friday bargains and Christmas spending, Alex’s words seemed relevant; Maid is a refreshing reminder of all the things, and more importantly all people, that we should never take for granted.
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