The Dressmaker is a most entertaining story based around revenge; the righting of a wrong exacted eighteen years previous that led to the ostracizing of a wrongfully accused young girl, Myrtle (‘Tilly’) Dunnage. Forced to flee her harsh, unforgiving and insular small country town, Tilly ironically went on to establish a career in Paris amongst the elite of haute couture. As a dressmaker to Europe’s rich and famous, Tilly returns to her home town of Dungatar, determined to bring her accusers to justice.
The dressmaker is played by Kate Winslet. She faces down the raw hostility of the locals with her own brand of feisty, haughty attitude. Her most potent weapon is her sewing machine and the use of fashion to transform the most drab and ordinary local women into icons of style. Against a background of unswerving hostility from the local ‘gatekeepers of morality’, Tilly slowly begins to win the hearts of women whom she has dressed. They in turn begin to influence and erode the prejudice of their partners towards Tilly.
The spectacular designer creations emerging from the hands of Tilly are a paradox within the ramshackle surrounds of Dungatar and one of the visual joys of the film. Tilly has returned to be with her ageing mother in a tumbledown house overlooking the town. Known to the locals as Mad Molly (played by Judy Davis), Tilly’s mother is aptly named. Mad Molly lives amongst the detritus of her life. Chaos is evident in her mental and physical state. She is a troubled soul who bitterly resists all attempts by Tilly to reconcile their relationship as mother and daughter. The schism in their lives dates back eighteen years to the time when Tilly was falsely accused of causing the death of the young son of a prominent local. Part of Tilly’s quest is to not only clear her own name but in doing so, also reunite the bond with her mother.
Many fine Australian actors contribute to this highly improbable but entertaining tale, amongst these is Hugo Weaving playing the cross-dressing local policeman, Sergeant Farrat. With an unusually keen sense of fashion, Farrat is a supporter of Tilly’s quest to enliven the dress sense of Dungatar but also torn because it was his testimony in part that allowed Tilly to be falsely accused many years before.
Through Tilly’s determination, the ‘pillars of society’ begin to crumble. The so called social structure of Dungatar is slowly reshaped as secret lives are forced into the open. Tilly progresses from accused to martyr to an innocent but that in no way dims her quest to exact revenge upon those responsible for causing so much suffering.
Some critics have been particularly harsh in their reviews of The Dressmaker. Yes the storyline may be improbable, the characters at times overblown and somewhat shallow but this film is very entertaining with many ‘laugh-out-loud’ moments. The way Tilly’s creations are used to highlight the snobbery, the elitism, the prejudice and the narrow beliefs of the locals provides for a worthwhile cinema experience and a humorous insight of the small town mindset.
Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse
Written by PJ Hogan & Jocelyn Moorhouse, after a novel by Rosalie Ham Starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, Shane Jacobson, Rebecca Gibney, Barry Otto.
Duration 118 minutes. Rated M. Available on DVD from February 25, 2016