Review: The Dressmaker
A film about love, revenge and haute couture.
Wow! I laughed, I cried, I fell in love. I went expecting an entertaining film from the trailer and walked out convinced I have seen one of the best films of my life. This is a story about the power of transformation using dresses as a tool to do so.
The movie begins with Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) stepping off a bus into the small town of Dungatar where she grew up and left twenty five years ago in disgrace due to a scandal over a boy’s death. She has returned to take care of her ailing mother (Judy Davis) and discover the secret of whether she murdered the boy, Stewart Pettyman, the trauma of the event having erased her memories. She arrives with a Singer sewing machine and years of experience as a designer and dressmaker. Her first line is “I’m back, bastards.”
Set in 1951 Australia, Tilly stuns the locals with her arrival, setting everyone to talking. Her first encounter the night she arrives is with Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving), the man who escorted her away as a ten year old. He bonds with her over fashion and design which she uses later to find out information about the death of Stewart. After she reunites with her mother, Mad Molly Dunnage (Judy Davis) and helps clean up her house set on a hill above the village, she begins the rest of her plan.
She joins the townsfolk for a game of football in a drop dead sexy red dress much to the consternation of those around her and the distraction of the team. Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) asks her to change. Telling Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook) who is an old schoolmate, “Watch and learn.”, she changes into an even more risqué black dress distracting the rival team from Winyerp so much that the Dungatar team wins the championship, proving the power of confidence and a stunning style.
She begins using her sewing machine to woo the community as she unlocks the mystery of whether she killed Stewart, avoiding his parents, Evan and Marigold Pettyman. She begins with Gertrude who wants to catch the eye of the richest man in town, William Beaumont. With Tilly’s help, she stuns him at the local dance. Her magic works and soon Gertrude is getting married to William. Everyone seeks Tilly out to design clothes and Teddy begins to romance Tilly.
But tension and secrets simmer beneath the surface even as Tilly feels she is winning people over. Evan Pettyman recruits another dressmaker, Una Pleasance (Sacha Horler) to come steal Tilly’s clients from her. Proving how fickle their affections and loyalty are, the town quickly welcomes Una, even Gertrude ‘Trudy’ who begins having Una create her wedding dress.
Una fails in a spectacular scene of hilarity as she and William’s mother chase Trudy, wearing the hideous frock, all through the streets until she runs back to Tilly. There were belly laughs throughout the theater. This push-pull with Tilly continues throughout the rest of the film.
Secrets come bubbling out and Tilly finally discovers what happened with Stewart with the help of Teddy but this is not the end of the drama. She must find a way to rid herself of the curse she carries, of the hate that these people feel for her. As her mother says to them all, “You are her curse.” Tilly must find a way to have peace and move beyond what is thought of her by everyone from her past.
There is so much more I could share but I would ruin it for viewers. I can say every element immerses you into Tilly’s world. Someone once told me that each character should be able to tell the tale from their point of view. This is what is so powerful about this presentation. Every character is unique, memorable and integral. Each secondary storyline is important to the main plot and even when it feels like it is meandering, pay attention because every thread foreshadows another piece of the drama and drives the action forward.
The Dressmaker has mystery, romance, humor and drama. There are twists and turns that you will not expect. My husband became so involved in the story that he was surprised by certain scenarios. Every piece is crafted to share Tilly’s need to make peace with her past. And every moment shares her transformation.
This film would not have come alive without a lot of work in front of and behind the scenes. As you watch, you are dropped into the 1950’s. Each dress is a character in and of itself, a work of art and a statement. There was an unimaginable amount of work involved to create the gorgeous dresses and each one matches the personality of the character wearing them. The dresses are matched by the set design and the realism of the environment. Without that level of craftsmanship, this movie would not have been so effective and so alive.
The actors were exceptional. Kate Winslet was impactful and incredible in her portrayal of Tilly, conveying so much emotion every time she was on screen. Liam Hemsworth was charming and deeply moving. There is a line he says, “The more they hate you, the more we’ll dance.” Lines like these will make you fall in love with his character. Judy Davis is by turns flirtatious and cantankerous, stealing scenes like her character steals flasks of liquor at every turn. Hugo Weaving is a laugh riot. Every scene he is in, he takes over with his fabulous way with a dress. Yes, Hugo Weaving in a dress! He has embodied the character in such a memorable way that it has completely overshadowed my mind any of his previous roles as Mr. Anderson in the Matrix or Elrond in Lord of the Rings. He was amazing. Truly, the entire cast entertained and will not soon be forgotten with their phenomenal performances. They were a revelation of skill and talent.
The Dressmaker won awards in Australia and I can see why. It deserves every accolade and I was astounded by this film. If you go see nothing else this summer, go see this movie. It is full of laughter, love, and tears with one of the best endings I have ever seen. I cannot recommend it higher.
Rating: 5 stars