Plot synopses of The Dressmaker describe this film as one in which a haute couture designer returns to her rural Australian town. Here she transforms the women of the town with her stylish creations, all the while wreaking revenge on those who, in the past, have wronged her, say the blurbs. Do not be fooled. This is no simple “revenge” story. It’s a fairly complex film about a woman, Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (Kate Winslet), who searches for clarity in her past, and for love and acceptance in the present. And it’s about the unchanging, selfish cruelty of humans, particularly when those people work in a group.
The Dressmaker is also very funny. Characters come across as “stock” theatre ones, complete with an evil teacher, an OCD recluse, a simpleton (who speaks the truth), a snob, a cross-dressing policeman, and an impossibly good looking, good-natured lover (Teddy McSwiney – played perfectly by Liam Hemsworth). Even the setting looks like a stage, with Tilly and her mother’s house perched at the top of the hill, overlooking the one-street town below. The transformation of the women into (ridiculously) stylish fashionistas is amusing. Molly (a brilliant Judy Davis), Tilly’s mother, is a hilariously grumpy, whiskey-swigging, unsentimental old bat. And the competition that arises between Tilly and rival dressmaker, Una Pleasance (Sacha Horler), kept me giggling in my seat. But once again, do not be fooled. The humour turns black as evil truths about the people begin to emerge.
Basically, the storyline goes as follows: as a child, Tilly was accused of killing a young boy and was sent away. Molly’s mother remains in the town as an outcast. Her father is unknown. Tilly returns to fill in the blanks of her memory and in the process the real motives of the townspeople are revealed. I cannot say more than that for fear of giving spoilers. Suffice to say that this is a very interesting, very entertaining film and very worth watching.
PS: If I was an actress and got to choose my role I would have acted as Molly!
The Dressmaker is showing at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa. The film opened on 5 February 2016.