A story that reveals itself little piece by little piece, The Dressmaker is an Aussie production based on the novel by Rosalie Ham. It stars Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, and Hugo Weaving. First thought that popped into my mind while watching this was “Is there are Australian film without Hugo Weaving in it?” Now, that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but not really. Here, he is a delight in that he is not playing his usual villain, rather he is a rather atypical police officer.
A glamourous looking woman arrives in a small dusty Australian town. She sticks out like a sore thumb. We soon find out that Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet – The Reader, The Mountain Between Us) is her name and this is actually the town she grew up in. She is back, after spending time in Paris learning to be a fashion designer, to take care of her mother Molly (Judy Davis – The Break-Up, Husbands and Wives), who seems to be suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Back despite the fact that it seems like no one in town likes her, except for maybe the chief of police Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving – The Matrix, Mortal Engines), and she feels no fondness towards them either. They want her out, but she is not going anywhere as she has the truth and revenge to get at. All this plus all the women (and Sergeant Farrat) are in a tizzy wanting to get their own Tilly designed frocks.
Plenty of quirky scenes and with the feel of an old time picture, this signals the return of director Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof, A Thousand Acres) since her last film in the late 90s. It is the type of film which is really like no other. Doesn’t slot easily into a genre. Though it is of a different time and involves beautiful dresses, it cannot be reduced to a period piece. Black comedy? Western? Love story? Mystery? Yes, to all. A little bit of everything can be found here making a rather scrumptious film stew.
Though the story is an interesting one, what really makes this film work is the acting. Kate Winslet is her usual fantastic self. A different type of role for her though she has made a career out of never playing the same character twice, so it is not really shocking. Judy Davis is a gem. An underappreciated actress. In this she really sinks her teeth into an entertaining for audience character. A big surprise for me was Liam Hemsworth. I had not really seen him in anything since The Last Song eight years ago. He fit into this role like a hand in a glove. A case of perfect casting. Physically big enough to be believable in the role and handsome to boot.
-“Designing The Dressmaker”