October 27, 2015
THE DRESSMAKER (M, 119mins) ★★★★1/2
“Unforgiven with a sewing machine,” is how writer and co-director Jocelyn Moorhouse describes her rural Australian revenge tale.
While not exactly accurate – there’s far more black comedy in this adaptation of Rosalie Ham’s 2000 novel than there was in Clint Eastwood’s farewell to the western – there’s a similar quality to the casting and depiction of one-horse town prejudices.
The single-equine home of this particular tale is Dungatar, Victoria. It’s 1951 and there’s only one topic of conversation – with return of Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (Kate Winslet). Sent away by her mother after being accused of a heinous crime at the tender age of 10, Tilly has returned armed with impressive dressmaking credentials and with designs on revenge. She has grudges to settle with those who shunned her, shamed her and failed to look after her admittedly difficult mother Molly (Judy Davis).
Initially, the locals are unwilling to change their attitudes towards her, but when word leaks out about the transformative qualities of her clothing, they’re lining up at her door for daywear and night attire to put some “spring” back into the old mattress. However, this is also a place where residents are more interested in Eisteddfod results than equal justice and there are those who refuse to forgive and forget and instantly begin plotting against Tilly.
Filled with stunning outfits, a superb cast and a soupcon of subversive humour, The Dressmaker is one of the best Australian movies in years.
Harking back to 1990s dramedies like Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Moorhouse’s (wife of Muriel’s writer-director P J Hogan, who co-wrote the script with her) engaging and entertaining movie is filled with memorable moments and a surprising number of unexpected twists. Perhaps a little darker than any of the trailers might suggest (and its childhood “trauma” and ultimate explanation feels a little contrived), it offers a satisfying emotional rollercoaster and lashings of visual appeal.
That’s thanks largely to the charismatic presence of Kate Winslet (A Little Chaos). Revelling in a deliciously acerbic part, she also rocks a succession of eye-catching and heart-stopping frocks.
However, this is no one woman show and she is ably supported by a deep bench of Australasian talent that includes Davis, Sarah Snook, Rebecca Gibney, Kerry Fox, Gyton Grantley, Liam Hemsworth, Shane Jacobson and the scene-stealing Hugh Weaving as a cross-dressing copper.