Based on Rosalie Ham’s bestselling novel, and adapted to the big screen by P.J. Hogan, the man behind the terrific 1994 comedy Muriel’s Wedding, The Dressmaker marks the first directorial outing for Jocelyn Moorhouse in almost two decades, as we have to go all the way back to 1997 for her preceding endeavor, A Thousand Acres. It’s around that time where this charming, quaint drama would feel most at home too, as while endearingly bonkers, The Dressmaker feels as though it fell off the bandwagon of quirky, Australian features from the 90s, and has only just been dusted off and discovered.
Set in 1950s, small town Australia, the locals are shocked when Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) returns home, having been pushed out following an accusation of murder during to her childhood. Now she’s a fashion guru, and garners the affections of old friend Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) and the local policeman (Hugo Weaving). But not all are impressed with her arrival, while her very own mother, Molly (Judy Davis) doesn’t even remember who she is. Tilly remains determined to win over the unforgiving town though, using her expertise in dressmaking to shake up this conservative town.
As Australian actors have persistently graced the screen in both the UK and the States, it’s now time for us to return the favor, and Winslet does not disappoint. Tilly Dunnage is a role that the accomplished performer revels in, managing to encapsulate both the subtle nuances of the part at hand – always remaining vulnerable and human, while at the same time appearing as such a glorious, glamorous diva. The tone of the picture is rather inconsistent, however, as we drift carelessly between farcicality and poignancy, and the struggle to achieve both does little but undermine the other.
The Dressmaker is absurd and inane and wonderfully irreverent, it’s just a shame it doesn’t play up to such tropes in a more consistent manner. Nonetheless, here’s a film that would make for an intriguing double bill with Brooklyn – though it’s the film about leaving home that has more appeal in this instance, than the one that studies what happens when we return.