Let’s get things started by saying that The Dressmaker is not the film you expect it to be – and it’s a better film for it. The trailer might paint it as a quirky romantic drama but it has a depth you might not anticipate, guts you will definitely enjoy, and a bite to its humour that certainly leaves a mark.Kate Winslet’s Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage returns to her backwoods home town in order to piece together the true story of a childhood tragedy, but she isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms.
Her mother, Mad Molly (Judy Davis), lives in the dilapidated house at the top of the hill; isolated from the rest of the tight-knit community but for a (very) few friendly folk who have looked after her in Tilly’s absence. The only way Tilly can win the hearts and minds of the locals is to impress them with her fashion sense and design skills, and she sets about this immediately.With each new client, Tilly discovers a little more about what really happened on that fateful day so many years ago.
The film starts out feeling like a classic, quirky, Australian dark comedy but soon develops some real emotional depth through the relationships between Tilly, her mother, Hugo Weaving’s Sergeant Farrat and Liam Hemsworth’s Teddy McSwiney, another community outcast. However, it never loses its bite and has the perfect even-handed use of humour and heartache.
Winslet’s Tilly is beautifully determined and engagingly vulnerable. Her ability to worm her way into the affections of the town through designer gowns is both charming and hilarious. The film makes the most of its cutting comedy in the growing sophistication of the ladies’ wardrobes, with the dusty backdrop soon draped with women in lavish and unsuitable ball gowns, and fashionable hairstyles.
Liam Hemsworth is full of heart as the hunk of the film. He’s a total charmer but isn’t afraid of being straight with people and has a keen sense of justice. Hugo Weaving is having great fun as the sergeant with a fetish for fashion and each individual town member leaves a mark on the film without falling into caricature, which could have been so easy with a lazier take on the script than director, Jocelyn Moorhouse provides.
But the real wonder of the film is Judy Davis as Mad Molly. She is devastating and hilarious, makes you laugh and cry, and all while maintaining the flint-like exterior of the hermit we meet at the beginning of the film. Her performance really is a highlight in a film that already has so many high points. The costumes are gorgeous, the script is brilliantly on-point, and both the humour and the heartache hit all the right notes.
It must also be said that it’s great to see an on-screen relationship between an older woman and a younger man without anyone on-screen or off raising any eyebrows.
The Dressmaker is a wonderful film and deserves to be seen by a bigger audience than the trailer might attract.
The Dressmaker is released in the UK on 20th November