October 28, 2015
The mystery woman is Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet – A Little Chaos), a local lass who left town years ago and who has been working in Europe as a fashion designer. Tilly has returned in the hope of unravelling something that is haunting her from the past; she wants to undo the ‘curse’ she feels is upon her. Dungatar’s inhabitants are an assortment of weirdos, including a hunch-backed chemist, Percival Almanac (Barry Otto – The Great Gatsby), an overbearing teacher, Beulah Harridiene (Kerry Fox –Holding The Man), the town’s ‘ugly duckling,’ Gertrude ‘Trudy’ Pratt (Sarah Snook – Predestination), a cross-dressing policeman, Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving – Strangerland), and a couple who have never got over the death of their son years earlier, Evan and Marigold Pettyman (Shane Bourne – Tricky Business, and Alison Whyte – The Doctor Blake Mysteries). The only thing this disparate group has in common is their belief that Tilly Dunnage is a murderer.
Tilly returns to the house of her mother, Molly (Judy Davis – The Eye Of The Storm), who lives in a ramshackle cottage on the top of a hill overlooking town. The two women have a love/hate relationship which has been exacerbated by their separation and now neither quite knows how to handle the other. Davis is at her best in her role as a self-described “hag” and she and Winslet spar almost constantly. Tilly eventually manages to get Molly and some of the residents on-side when she makes new dresses for them and transforms these plain country women into fashion mavens… well, sort of. She is also beginning to glean small bits of information about the cause of her rapid departure from town when still a child. The arrival of Una Pleasance (Sacha Horler – Catching Milat), a seamstress hired to make costumes for the local drama competition, causes deep division in the ranks and makes for some fabulous bitchy rivalry and slapstick humour. Tilly has been busy in another direction, too, and has been swept off her feet by Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth – The Hunger Games series), an impoverished farm worker. In a scene that has him baring his chest to be fitted for a new suit, you could hear an audible sigh go through the preview screening. That Hemsworth gene pool is something else!
This is Moorhouse’s first directorial effort since 1997’s A Thousand Acres and it’s been worth waiting for. It’s one of the most original Aussie films released this year and is likely to be well represented in the AACTA and Film Critics’ Circle Awards. With good reason: viewers will be drawn in by the smorgasbord of well-known Australian acting talent; by Don McAlpine’s cinematography, which perfectly captures the bleached look of the outback; by Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson’s colourful fabrics and lavish costumes; and by David Hirschfelder’s score. Lisa Thompson’s set direction is suitably over the top – the sets are stuffed full of kitsch ‘50s objects that must have been snapped up at garage sales – but somehow it all works. The script never quite goes where you think it will and, indeed, takes a couple of very dark turns at times. If you’re game for some well-executed, quirky and well… camp, mayhem thenThe Dressmaker will suit you (boom boom)!
Previewed at Universal Pictures Theatre, Sydney on 15 October 2015