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Published October 22nd 2015
A tale of revenge, regret and reconciliation
Before I start this review, I need to add this disclaimer: The Dressmaker is one difficult film to describe. It is not a comedy nor a period drama but includes elements of both plus quite a few tear jerking moments thrown in to the mix. Director Jocelyn Moorhouse has warned that audiences should "expect the unexpected", and this was certainly my experience. And if, like me, you have little knowledge of the story and few expectations before viewing it, you will most certainly come away surprised, delighted and perhaps even inspired by this movie experience.
Kate Winslet in The Dressmaker (Image Credit: Ben King)
The film is based on a book of the same name by Australian author Rosalie Ham. The story is set in Dungatar, a fictional outback Australian town, literally in the middle of nowhere, in the year 1951.
The film opens with the arrival of Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage, played by Kate Winslet, stepping off a bus after an absence of 25 years. One of the opening lines of dialogue sets the scene for the entire movie when Tilly announces, "I'm back, you bastards". At this point we can safely assume that this is not going to be a gentile period drama!
Returning from Europe where she has studied fashion with leading designers we soon discover Tilly is an experienced and gifted dressmaker. We also discover the reason why she was banished from the town all those years ago. She has been blamed for the mysterious death of a classmate when she was ten. The complication to the story is that Tilly can't remember what happened. She feels like her life has been cursed by it, and is determined to find out the truth behind the mystery and exact her revenge.
Like many small country towns, Dungatar is made up of an assortment of odd and eccentric characters. You will spot many familiar faces in the supporting cast including Rebecca Gibney, Sarah Snook, Alison Whyte, Shane Bourne and Barry Otto. It is a town where secrets and lies are either hidden or unspoken, yet the town thrives on gossip and everyone seems to know everyone else's business. Tilly trades her skills with the sewing machine for information and tries to persuade the people of Dungatar to give her a second chance.
The ladies of Dungatar in their haute couture (Image Credit: Ben King)
I found plenty of humour in this film. The scenes where the ladies of Dungatar strut around the drab & dusty streets in their new haute couture gowns designed by Tilly are absurd yet so much fun to watch. Similarly the role of Police Sergeant Farrat, played by Hugo Weaving, is also one of comic relief from the dark themes of revenge.
Hugo Weaving as Police Sergeant Farrat (Image Credit: The Dressmaker)
One of the more serious themes is the relationship between Tilly and her reclusive, wheel-chair bound mother, known as Mad Molly, played to perfection by Judy Davis. As Tilly attempts to solve the mystery of her banishment she also hopes to reconcile with her estranged mother, but it is not an easy process with the unstable and obstinate Molly. Judy Davis and Kate Winslet seem to have had a ball playing opposite each other in these roles and they are a delight to watch.
I thought the entire cast was superb. Kate Winslet is striking in the designer gowns and her Aussie accent is absolutely flawless. Judy Davis is delightfully wacky and inappropriate as Mad Molly and almost steals the show. As usual Hugo Weaving gives a charming performance as a cross dressing, fashion conscious Police Sergeant, while Liam Hemsworth is refreshing as the local hunk and romantic interest for Tilly.
Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth in The Dressmaker (Image Credit: The Dressmaker)
Fashion is the other star of this movie with plenty of glamorous designer frocks to admire. While overseas audiences may not appreciate the humour and sensibilities of this movie, I think Australian audiences will fall in love with this quirky, dark, yet charming and surprising Aussie film. It was certainly a crowd pleaser at the session I attended.
Rated M, The Dressmaker will open in Australian cinemas on October 29, 2015.