The Dressmaker is an Australian revenge drama based on the novel by Rosalie Ham. Starring Kate Winslet as the titular Tilly Dunnage, The Dressmaker is about a woman who moves back to her rural hometown after travelling the world as a designer, and her struggle against the drama and mystery that surrounds the town and her departure from it as a child.
The revenge drama structure of the film hinges on the idea that gossip spreads quickly in a small town. Tilly’s return to Dungatar sparks controversy as she was blamed for the murder of a schoolmate when she was a child, and throughout the film she exacts revenge on those who blamed her. The film is jam packed with different subplots, which occasionally fight against each other for attention and make the film drag, but when things started to fall apart, Kate Winslet’s performance pulled them back together. As Tilly, she is a sharp, fearsome femme fatale, but also quite affective and human, giving the character depth. Her background as a dressmaker added an unusual, yet enjoyable aspect to the film, and resulted in quite good costuming for the movie too. The progression of Tilly’s complicated mother – daughter relationship with Judy Davis’ Molly was also quite interesting to watch, and Judy Davis gave quite a compelling performance.
Tonally, this movie is quite hard to describe. Going from fluffy to intense, it shifted often, trying to fit in too many genres at once. Full of murder and very dramatic, the film dealt with some heavy themes, and dealt with them quite well, but it was the comic relief from some of these themes that wasn’t always effective, and felt out of place. These tonal shifts work better in a novel form, fitting better into the dark dramedy genre, but on film they didn’t always translate as well. What did succeed as comic relief, however, was the character of Sergeant Farrat; played excellently by Hugo Weaving, he was camp, full of heart, and very loyal to Tilly, bringing us back up in some of the more deep, dark moments. For a very full film, the ending was very satisfying, with all of the loose ends tied, giving us a bit more hope for Tilly.
For such an English lead actress, The Dressmaker is a very Australian film. I am not always very positive on the subject of Australian cinema, and though The Dressmaker hasn’t totally changed my mind, I did enjoy it, and it didn’t even always feel like an Australian film. Though its tone was sloppy, the great cast compensated for this, and the heavy drama coupled with the lighter, designer element made for a solid Australian film.
Here is my list of my top 5 favourite films starring the cast of The Dressmaker:
- The Holiday – Kate Winslet
- Kenny – Shane Jacobson
- Captain America: The First Avenger – Hugo Weaving
- The Hunger Games – Liam Hemsworth
- The Matrix – Hugo Weaving