Adapted from the novel by Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker follows the glamorous woman, Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet), returning home to a small, rural Australian town with her sewing machine and her high couture style. While there she tries to uncover the mystery of her rumoured murderous past as well as reconnect with her estranged mother.
The film starts off strong with a killer line from Winslet announcing her return to the dusty and deserted town stating “I’m back bitches”. If that’s not enough to set the tone of this oddly dark, Shakespearian inspired revenge comedy, the following scenes introducing the colourful characters of this tight knit community will. The first introduction to the town as a whole is in what seems to be a daily routine from the elderly hunched over doctor being steered down hill towards one store then bounced back to his pillow-holding wife who helps him stop his little journey all the while we pop into little shops seeing the few towns people opening their businesses for the day.
We are then introduced to the Pratts who run the convenience store where we are also introduced to William Beaumont an attractive and wealthy single man looking to settle down. With no women attractive enough for Beaumont’s hand, Gertrude ‘Trudy’ Pratt is set to find a way to make him her husband. After Tilly puts on a rather seductive show at the annual rugby match she takes on Gertrude, transforming her into a gorgeous and curvy piece of eye candy. With Tilly’s sewing talents proving to be extremely effective women flock to her to be transformed into a high fashioned model type instead of looking like the dusty, awful gossip townspeople they truly are.
The dark cloud looming over the town is Tilly’s dark past. The people refuse to talk about it openly, but that doesn’t stop them from gossiping about her murdering a young boy 25 years prior, when she was only ten years old. The town just wont forgive her for something she doesn’t even remember doing. In an act of revenge and hate Tilly’s crazy, drunk mother Molly Dunnage, Judy Davis, sets up a plan only known to her, causing the death most of the towns elderly members. In a final act of defiance Tilly inspired by her mother leaves the town in a ‘blaze’ of glory that puts the townsfolk into a complete state of shock and despair.
The stand out performance is in that of Judy Davis. Her complete lunacy is hilarious and outlandish, but done with a sense of sanity. As Tilly Dunnage’s mother Molly does everything she can to protect Tilly from the truth. She doesn’t want Tilly to stay in a town where people blame her for the death of a young boy regardless of if it was her fault or not. In the end she is the key to Tilly’s success in the town as a seamstress as well as with her daughters extremely flashy revenge.
The only oddity of the cast is the choice of Liam Hemsworth as Winslet’s older love interest, Teddy McSwiney. Although, the two have amazing chemistry together and they do a great job at making Winslet seem younger than Hemsworth it is blatantly obvious at times that she is 15 years his senior, which wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t state that his character is much older than hers is. Other than that minor flaw the film is upbeat, well paced and demandingly humorous at all the right times.
Beyond this minor flaw director Jocelyn Moorhouse has created a truly funny, witty, Aussie film that will be seen by few, but deserves to be seen by many.