TL;DR – Not what it seems, which is good, because it is better than it seems
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Wow, what a fascinating film. To be perfectly honest I was not going to go see The Dressmaker, but a colleague of mine challenged me to see a film I would not normally see, and boy did I end up picking a good one. The Dressmaker tells the story of Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) who at the start of the film is arriving back in her hometown of Dungatar after leaving as a child under the cloud of scandal. She is back to see her mother Molly (Judy Davis) who has in the preceding years suffered from dementia and become a recluse in her house, garnering the nickname Mad Molly. But for Tilly, time away from Dungatar has meant learning fashion design from the greatest minds of London, Paris and Milan and maybe, just maybe she can use her talents as a dressmaker to win over the town. And in a normal film that would be that, stick a couple of scenes of a shirtless Liam Hemsworth and call it a day, but The Dressmaker is more than that, and it is so much better for it.
In some respects it is very difficult to talk about the film without spoiling it in some way, I’m going to try my best, but I would recommend on the safe side to go see the film first and then read the rest of the review if you are at all interested. Ok so everyone at this point has already seen the film or doesn’t care if something gets spoiled. Ok, let’s go.
The first really surprising thing about this film is the really dark themes it engages with, murder, rape, abuse, domestic violence, class, depression, just to name a few. It deals with the issues of a small town in the 1950s, the things that we hush up, the way we treated people, and the knowledge that we are not all that different today. But also I must stress this is not just a dark film, there are emotional highs and lows throughout the film and some of the most downright amusing scenes I have seen in a long time.
One of the strengths of this film is in its casting, everybody works, from the leads to all the players in the town. Kate Winslet shows her amazing acting range and her ability to own nearly every scene she is in. I think this is the best I have ever seen Judy Davis, she owns the character of Mad Molly but also has a nuanced performance between all the bluster. Liam Hemsworth (Teddy McSwiney) is not just there for a bit of eye candy but shows someone who just wants to belong, even though they know they can’t. Hugo Weaving plays the local police Sergeant Horatio Farrat, and if ever a role was made for him it is this one. The rest of the town is a who’s who of Australian actors and they all work well to complement or hinder the main cast.
There must also be a special mention to not only to the set design but also to designs of the clothes worn by the cast, those dresses were stunning.
There are a couple of weaknesses, a couple of the scenes don’t work as well as they could have, I’m looking at you Hugo Weaving and that fabric scene. Also, it does start to feel a little long in the last third of the film, but then the ending happens and wow, just wow.
So to sum it up, during this film I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I got angry, I jumped (metaphorically) for joy, it was an emotional roller-coaster, but it was also a thought provoking look into small towns and how we treat people we think are different, I highly recommend this film.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Jocelyn Moorhouse
Screenplay by – Jocelyn Moorhouse & P. J. Hogan
Based on – ‘The Dressmaker’ by Rosalie Ham
Starring – Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Sarah Snook, Rebecca Gibney, Shane Bourne, Alison Whyte, Barry Otto, Shane Jacobson, Gyton Grantley & Hugo Weaving
Rating – Australia: M; NZ: M