FILM REVIEW: The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker (Jocelyn Moorhouse, 2015)

Arguably the biggest local film of the year, The Dressmaker is uniquely Australian, although its buzz is most likely in large part to its international star. Kate Winslet stars as Tilly Dunnage, a glamourous dressmaker who returns to her hometown of Dungatar to visit her ailing mother, Molly (Judy Davis). Here she is confronted by the small town mentality of the townsfolk who delight in petty gossip and false accusations following a childhood incident that resulted in Tilly’s departure several years earlier.


Contrary to my expectations, The Dressmaker was refreshingly slightly out of left field. Perhaps taking a few cues from the great Baz Luhrmann, Jocelyn Moorhouse delivers a film which is quirky, offbeat, and one that feels almost magical. To international viewers, the Australia on show here might be similar to what they imagine our country to be, but for locals – at least those from major cities – it feels more like a fantasy land. The fictional Dungatar is a town of many horrors, and yet its residents frequently provide light entertainment and humour amongst the shambles. Perhaps its offbeat nature shouldn’t come as a surprise given that P.J. Hogan – most famous for Muriel’s Wedding – is co-writer. Together he and Moorhouse have adapted Rosalie Ham’s novel to stunning effect.

Our Hugo.
Our Hugo.

Of course you’d expect the costumes to be nothing short of divine in a film called The Dressmaker, and viewers will not be disappointed. The Australian landscape is similarly a joy to behold – who knew regional Victoria could look so good? With a filter anyway.

Great view.
Great view.

Kate Winslet seems somewhat of an odd choice to star in an Australian story, though her casting was a smart commercial decision in terms of finding a broad audience, and hopefully one that reaches further than just Australia. Her accent was surprisingly good (see it is possible, Quentin Tarantino/Jude Law/ most people who have tried!); the only issue was that she’s meant to be the same age as Liam Hemsworth, Sarah Snook, et al. and absolutely no one is buying that. But so be damned! Within the world of this film, nothing is off limits. The supporting cast are just as strong, if not more so, with Judy Davis and Hugo Weaving (as a flamboyant local police officer) the highlights.

It gets intense - she sews the haters' mouths off. (J/K)
It gets intense – she sews the haters’ lips together (J/K!)

If you go in expecting a normal, boring, story about little more than romance and clothes, you may be disappointed. Be prepared for something a little darker and feistier, and not a kangaroo in sight.

3.5 stars

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