Film review by Claire Durrant of the black comedy starring Kate Winslet as the title dressmaker in 1950’s Australia, Liam Hemsworth as her lover and Judy Davis as her estranged mother.
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Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse. Apollo/Film Art/Screen Australia. 118min. (12a)
In the middle of the night at an outback Australian town, Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) steps out of a car. “I’m back you bastards,” she murmurs. Tilly has returned to her hometown to find out more about her ambiguous past; in which when she was 10, she may have been involved in the murder of a schoolboy. All the while, reconciling with her foul, alcoholic mother (Judy Davis), falling in love with handsome local boy (Liam Hemsworth), and disguising the ugliness of the townspeople with her fancy dress making skills.
Okay, I’ll admit that I hadn’t seen the trailer, nor did I read reviews about it prior to watching this film. Consequently, I’ve never been so happy going in to a film knowing practically nothing about it. The Dressmaker has become something of a marmite film (or vegemite, because it’s Australian), reviews are ranging from one star to five. Therefore, I’m thrilled to have my say, because just like marmite, I enjoyed this film.
Kate Winslet is having quite the year with her performances in this and Steve Jobs (2015). Her performance in The Dressmaker is just as strong and has us on her side from the moment she steps in front of the camera. She exudes a femme fatale quality of seediness and confidence in her flattering red dress complete with cigarette in hand. Yet, she is loving, unsure and fragile. Tilly is a remarkable female protagonist.
Other performing highlights include Judy Davis as ‘Mad Molly’, Tilly’s mother and Hugo Weaving as camp Sergeant Farrat.
The developing relationship scenes between Tilly and Molly are some of the funniest and heart warming moments in the film. Molly is initially reluctant to even acknowledge her own daughter, a potential murderer, but begrudgingly begins to warm up to and defend Tilly. Molly is rude, senile and unstable and Davis has much fun playing her.
Mr Weaving however, is just simply fabulous! I’m not going to say much more about his character, but you may get flashbacks of Priscilla Queen Of the Desert (1994).
The thing I enjoyed most, however, was that this film was completely unpredictable. There is no one genre it can fit in to. It’s a drama, comedy, mystery, romance, tragedy. These changing shifts in tone are sudden and unexpected. A scene can change from a funny one, to a sad one in the blink of a second. This film may be the most uplifting or depressing film I’ve ever seen.
The ending is also entertaining to watch, in which all secrets are revealed and those who have done wrong are punished, in either a humorous or bloody way. Oh yes, there is also sudden violence in this film too. The film may not know what exactly it wants to be in terms of the story, but that’s what I admired about it. And as cringing and cliché as it sounds, life isn’t exactly one genre.
If I had one issue with the film, I say it is a tad too long, but I just saw it as more time to watch Mr Weaving on the big screen.
Watch the official trailer on Youtube.
Cast & credits
Producer: Sue Maslin.
Writer: Jocelyn Moorhouse.
Camera: Donald McAlpine.
Music: David Hirschfelder.
Sets: Roger Ford.
Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, James Mackay, Rebecca Gibney.