Review: The Dressmaker | HerCanberra

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Review: The Dressmaker

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A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong. IMDb

I propose a notion – let’s rename ‘Wednesday’ ‘Revengeday’ and dress up like Tilly Dunnage. What a woman. What a story. What bliss to see an Australian film of this calibre and individuality.

I have not read Rosalie Ham’s book (although every person I know who has confidently tells me I would love it) so now I will be jogging to my nearest bookstore to purchase it. I know that the author has said the book and the film are (quite rightly) different animals but that she is pleased with how the film turned out. So that is a good sign.

I was captured from the first moment.  The tiny town backwater town of Dungatar exists in an Australia both wonderfully familiar and completely removed from our reality. A microcosm of small town attitudes, it is pared back to its essential buildings, characters and set dressing to make it a stage worthy of the events that follow the return of Myrtle (call me Tilly) Dunnage. Like the town she is at once a stereotype and a mystery as deep as the ocean.

The blend of light and dark, familiar and odd, kindness and great unfairness, evil and a sort of casual violence that make up this film is really, really entertaining. Often laugh-out-loud hilarious it is also as dark as the inside of a black dog at midnight. So be prepared for both.

And be prepared to be slack-jawed at the breadth and depth of Aussie acting talent taking part in this story. Admittedly Jocelyn Moorhouse, the director, is part of Australian film aristocracy, having directed Proof (arguably the film that launched both Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving) and made films with Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder and Anne Bancroft. She is also a screenwriter and producer, particularly of her husband’s films. Said husband being P.J.Hogan of Muriel’s Wedding. The two of them adapted the novel into a screenplay, which works wonderfully well, and are apparently still on good terms after doing so. Must be a good partnership!

So I don’t know if the two of them called in every favour or whether because of them everyone who was asked to act a part dropped everything to do so but – wow. Rebecca Gibney (wonderful as the mum in P.J.’s Mental) is delightfully ditsy and Sarah Snook as her daughter has a Strictly Ballroom worthy transformation, with a wicked twist. So many good actors with but a handful of lines deliver perfect characterisations to make the story live.  Shane Jacobson is a solid presence, Shane Bourne is malevolent, Gyton Grantley – understated and sympathetic when caricature would have been an easier road, Caroline Goodall and Kerry Fox – fabulous, Barry Otto – cleverly physical, Sacha Horler – deliciously dislikeable and the list goes on!

Judy Davis owns the screen as Tilly’s mad mother and Hugo Weaving – well, he is clearly having a ball darling! I have said before that it is hard for me to see past Chris Hemsworth to any other brothers he might have but this is the film that will demand we all take notice of Liam. Damn, those boys are genetically blessed. Great onscreen presence too.

Then there is Tilly herself – oops, I mean Kate Winslet – two minutes into the film I had forgotten I was watching an actor, she really inhabited her role. The only foreign talent I have ever heard wrestle our accent into authentic submission, she apparently helped Liam Hemsworth flatten his vowels when he sounded too American!

The visual language of the film is just delicious – whether the scene depicted is surreal (another dressmaker arrives in the barren town – with the only colour being haute couture bedecked women going about their chores), slapstick or dreadfully sad. As much is said with action as is with words – and that makes for a powerful cinema experience.

The look, the story, THE CLOTHES, the heartbreak and redemption – this is a film not to miss.

Roslyn saw this film as a guest of Limelight Cinemas in Tuggeranong.

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