A revenge story set in a small town in Australia’s 1950’s outback, The Dressmaker has its highs and lows. Some comedy works, other moments seem bizarre. Yet the world this film is set in doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously anyway, which makes for good entertainment, even if it’s over the top at times.
The Dressmaker is a book, which has been adapted into this film. The project succeeded in various ways: the opening credit scene of the film has amazing shots, setting the tone perfectly. The film starts off with Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) stepping of an old train, in haute couture, lighting a cigarette and greeting her old home with an: ‘I’m back, you bastards.’ Tilly is smoking quite frequently throughout this movie: this was the fashionable thing to do and whilst this movie is ultimately about revenge, it is just as much about fashion. The costume design is fabulous. The colour schemes and grading make for eye candy. Whilst the plot line disintegrates at times, taking on too many subplots, the eye for detail on the visual makes more than up for it. Throughout this film I found myself ruminating on the great shots, the colour, landscape and total composition. Like a painting to be studied, but fluid, not static.
Winslet plays a great Tilly Dunnage, however, her eccentric mother Molly Dunnage, (Judy Davis) steals her thunder when she gets screen time. When Tilly comes back, Molly initially denies she has a daughter, but comes round.
The story is about Tilly, who had been sent away for a murder of a young boy when they were children. Tilly can’t remember what had happened, this being a traumatic event, but deep within she feels she is innocent and longs to proof it, or at least find out what really happened. Having worked in high fashion houses in Paris, Tilly always looks amazing, draws all attention on her and tries to win over the population of this outback village by spicing up their clothes. This does win her some sympathy, but some small town habitants also have small minds and not all is well that might end well.
Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) who doesn’t care for the villager’s opinions falls in love with a reluctant Tilly. Yet when he takes his shirt off to measure his chest for a new suit any doubt she may have had is swept away. Teddy is supposed to be the same age as Tilly and why not just believe it: a bit of artistic license is not a bad thing. You need to suspend your belief for this movie anyway, but if you do you will be rewarded by a whacky over the top story.
The film hosts any array of Australia’s best actors, thus Hugo Weaving can’t be missing. The man has invested a lot of his life promoting Australia’s film scene. His performance reminds one of Priscilla but the light version. He plays a sergeant with more enthusiasm for fabrics than a man should have in the 1950’s Australian outback.
As for the Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, the last time she directed a film was A Thousand Acres (1997). Yet the break hasn’t diminished her eye for a good shot. All in all the film is fun to watch, making it easy to over look its flaws and over the top finish. However, don’t expect too much. This movie is great to beat the winter blues though, featuring a warm, colourful and light-hearted fantasy Australia.
Photo Courtesy: The Dressmaker theatrical release poster