With its idyllic American northwest coastal setting, Maid is an unexpected and disconcerting ten-part miniseries of domestic violence, mental health and poverty. Heavy, fearful breathing; a sleeping child snatched from its bed; a sidestep to avoid broken glass and a mad dash for the car – an intense opening provides an insight into what is to come.
Escaping an abusive relationship, Alex (Margaret Qualley) flees with her young daughter, Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) in search of a better and safer life. Finding a temporary haven in a women’s shelter, Alex secures poorly-paid work as a casual, contract maid in various households. But she is dogged by her alcoholic ex-partner, having no money, restrictive legal regulations and concerns for a bipolar mother.
Maid is a nuanced and deeply humane exploration of living on the margins as Alex, a wannabe writer, struggles to survive in a system stacked against her. Her relationship with Sean (Nick Robinson) had not turned violent (yet) but she was wholly dependent upon him living in an isolated trailer in the rainforests where she had no phone, no money, no contact with people other than those sanctioned by Sean. Suddenly, Alex needs to find her own way – and it ain’t easy. But a determined Alex fights for her and her daughter’s rights to that better life – in spite of the fact it appears even Alex’s own mother (a splendid Andie MacDowell), focussed so much on her own wants and also a survivor of abuse, is against her.
Through it’s multi-layered narratives, Maid sets out unequivocally to get its message across – the downward spiral of poverty, the repitition of domestic violence (it takes an average of seven attempts for a woman to leave the home), the scourge of mental health. Admittedly, the miniseries has been ‘cleaned up’ for popular consumption, based as it is on the personal memoire of Stephanie Land, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive and lacks true grit. But an impressive, immensely likeable, rarely confrontational Qualley provides a powerful emotional core to create compelling viewing.