Tackling domestic abuse, homelessness and the crushing reality of poverty, the Netflix show is heartbreaking, gruelling and tender television

The past two years have made plain how precarious life is, and how quickly things can change. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Netflix’s biggest hits of 2021 are both about desperate people pushed to their limits. As Squid Game dominates the headlines, it is Maid – quieter, but no less devastating – that is generating word-of-mouth buzz. The series is on track to beat The Queen’s Gambit as Netflix’s most-watched miniseries, estimated to be streamed by 67m households by the end of its first month on the platform.

Adapted from Stephanie Land’s bestselling 2019 memoir, it follows a young mother, Alex (Margaret Qualley), as she scrabbles to save herself and her daughter, Maddy, two, from a crushing cycle of domestic abuse. Homeless and alone, Alex is tossed into the choppy waters of impenetrable bureaucracy. She can’t access subsidised childcare if she doesn’t have a job, but she can’t get a job without childcare. She doesn’t believe she belongs at a shelter because the abuse was emotional not physical. She gets a cleaning job, but can only work limited hours to qualify for government assistance. She must pick her battles, reserving energy for those that matter most. The only thing more overwhelming than her circumstances is the immense shame she feels.

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