The Weekly Review
October 27, 2015
The Dressmaker isn’t your average Australian comedy. The 1950s small-town setting might look familiar, but there’s nothing quaint about the adventures of the titular Tilly (Kate Winslet), who returns after a long absence to wreak revenge. The humour is savage and the characters as colourful as the outfits.
Most colourful (in costume and conduct) is local cop Sergeant Horatio Farrat. The cross-dressing (barely closeted) policeman is played by veteran Australian actor Hugo Weaving. When we met in Melbourne ahead of the film’s release, Hugo and I spoke about family, frocks and the importance of Australian cinema.
He is! In the book, he’s certainly much loved. He does his job well and gives people a lot of leeway. He’s got his own secrets, which he’s quite sure most of the town know. I suppose they’ve all got something on each other, but as long as you don’t tread too much on anyone’s toes they’ll leave you alone. I think he’s a genuinely good man.
Complexity is, I suppose. And that often means damage of some sort. It may not be major damage. With Farrat, there’s a certain amount of guilt that’s been buried for some time, because Tilly has been away for 15 years. When she comes back, I think he’s genuinely excited to see this coterie arrive, but there’s quite a lot of trepidation because it means his own particular issues come up. He does feel guilt for what he’s done to her as a young girl. He needs to atone in some way to both [her mother] Molly (Judy Davis) and Tilly.
I did. Loved the book. There’s a wealth of information in there for an actor. Some of it is not in the film script, so you can’t really go there. There were all sorts of ideas I had that we just couldn’t do.
Just seeing him in his bath, with cucumbers on his eyes. Things like that. Other private moments where we could see him, but there weren’t. There are so many characters in this story that those private moments … you know they’re there. So maybe knowing they’re there, that might come across to an audience.
Yes, I live here, this is the country I live in. The first thing I want to do is to work in film here. It’s not like I’m doing anyone a favour or trying to help out or anything. I don’t understand, really, wanting to go to another country and spending your whole time telling their stories. I understand it from time to time, of course. But personally, I want to predominantly work in an Australian cultural milieu. That’s where my focus is and I think that’s an entirely natural one.
Yeah. I wouldn’t be prescriptive about what sort of film we should make, but we seem to go in two or three-year cycles. “We need to make really quirky comedies” and then “So we need to make really serious, hard-biting films about people on the edge in the city” and then “We need to make historical dramas”.
There was a bit of a backlash against inner-city, drug-addicted films for a while. They’re all valid, as long as they’re good. There are so many great stories and film styles and filmmakers out there, you can’t say this is what we should or shouldn’t be doing.
Having said that, I agree. I think this is an incredibly entertaining film. I think it’s essentially, at base note, a very serious piece. It is dark. And it is about unearthing the truth and then taking revenge.
There’s something Jacobean about this film, I think. But it’s in this incredible beautiful landscape, set back in another time, an other-worldly place, with incredibly stylish costumes and extraordinary art direction.
It’s got a great flamboyancy to it and it’s got a boldness. And it’s an unusual hybrid of a film that manages to thread all these different styles together in a quintessentially Australian way. I think it’s a gem.
It’s funny. He’s hanging out with all my friends now; it’s really nice. (laughs) I’m really pleased for him, that he’s working in film and theatre and TV. He’s got his eyes open and his head screwed on and he’s doing well.
If he asks me but, nah, he’s smart. He’s good.
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