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FILM REVIEW: The Dressmaker

TV3’s movie expert Kate Rodger says this film is not what it seems.

Movie marketing is a strange, often misleading beast, and this rings especially true with The Dressmaker. So, I shall take it upon myself to fully prep you: as you contemplate a mildly-diverting, gentle few hours in the 1950s outback with glamourous Kate Winslet, things are not as they appear!

From the opening, the arresting aerial views and introduction of femme fatale Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) as she steps off the bus into the barren dirt of her former home town of Dungatar had me hooked. Spaghetti Westerns are my jam after all, and there was no question that director Joceyln Moorhouse aimed to please on that front – presenting our chief protagonist dressed to the nines, lighting her cigarette and gazing out from under the brim of her 1950s hat, while armed with her Singer sewing machine. Just fabulous.

Tilly Dunnage done wrong many many years ago, and she is ready to right her past. The first wrong she has to right relates to her mother, Mad Molly (Judy Davis). Conveniently afflicted with amnesia when it suits her, Mad Molly is as stubborn as her daughter, and watching these two class actresses tussle is a constant joy.

Tilly does not get a warm welcome back in Dungatar. Shipped off as a little girl, blamed for the death of a schoolmate, there’s not a soul in town with open arms. Well… not until her flair with her Singer is uncovered. Tilly has worked with designers in London, Milan and Paris, her wardrobe is straight couture and suddenly all the vain wannabes of Dungatar are competing for a Tilly Dunnage makeover.

Meanwhile, the ridiculously tanned and very handsome Teddy (played by Liam Hemsworth) begins to woo Tilly, who for reasons no sane woman could even fathom, resists him at every turn.

Around about now, The Dressmaker takes a very unexpected turn and gallops off into darkly gothic and comic territory, becoming an entirely different film altogether. This will do one of two things to the audience: bewilder and annoy them, or freak them out… before delighting them.

Winslet and Davis steal the show, mining their characters for maximum impact and clearly having the time of their lives. Watch out, too, for a Priscilla Queen of the Desert outing from the wonderful Hugo Weaving.

The Dressmaker won’t be for everyone, and please don’t go expecting a rom-com in the outback. There is a little romance, but for me, watching it magically morph into a dark, subversive, revenge comedy left me reeling, then laughing very loudly indeed.

Stars: 3.5/5

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