sun 21/07/2024

The Dressmaker | reviews, news & interviews

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

Kate Winslet revenge drama needs serious alterations

Love and death: Liam Hemsworth and Kate Winslet in `The Dressmaker'

What begins as a would-be exercise in camp devolves into perfervid tosh and ultimately tedium in The Dressmaker, a belligerently over-the-top revenge drama that might just about have squeaked by as an opera - an art form better-suited to such deliberately over-the-top theatrics.

As it is, even the iciest of stares from Kate Winslet in haute couture mode can't sustain interest in Antipodean director Jocelyn Moorhouse's return to film directing after a long absence. "I'm back, you bastards," Winslet's anger-fuelled Myrtle aka Tilly Dunnage says at the start as she re-enters Dungatar, the Australian backwater that some years before did her seriously wrong. And so, for better or worse, is Moorhouse, though whether she feels hard done by her forays to Hollywood with films like A Thousand Acres is up for grabs. 

The gleam in Tilly's eye suggests from the outset that this white-gloved paragon of style means business. Indeed, the screenplay by Moorhouse and her husband PJ Hogan wastes no time pitting this citizen of the world against the gathering grotesques of the small-minded townsfolk whom Tilly abandoned some time ago only to return, Carrie-style, with thoughts of conflagration and the like on her mind. The principal offender at first appears to have been Tilly's wizened mum, Molly (Judy Davis, wrinkled well beyond her actual years and pictured above right), a batty old crone who claims at the outset not to recognise her own daughter. 

In fact, Molly is a comparative exemplar of sanity next to a cavalcade of characters that make the indrawn Suffolk community of, say, Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes look positively cheery. Most prominent among the venal line-up is Mr Almanac (Barry Otto), the hunched-over chemist who dispenses little besides religious claptrap, and a variety of individuals and families whose surnames tip you off, Restoration comedy-style, to their qualities as people - the ironically-named Una Pleasance (Sacha Horler), a rival dressmaker; or the more aptly-named Pratt, Pettyman, and Harridiene assemblage. (For Harridiene, presumably, think harridan.) 

At first, there's some good, lowdown humour to be had from Tilly's ability to strike fear and loathing into the hearts of a hellish populace who have branded her as a murderer due to a long-buried episode that is laboriously explained over the course of a protracted-seeming two hours. And the plot, drawn from the Rosalie Ham novel of the same name, has an appeal that will be familiar to those who know Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending, another tale of a female outsider who finds herself brought before an unforgiving jury of rural reprobates. As might be expected, a heavy-breathing Winslet (pictured above) looks terrific in a part one can imagine a younger Julianne Moore batting out of the park, but even she can't do much with lines like "I need you to remember so I can remember" as Tilly confronts head-on the feeling that she has been cursed. 

There's some improbable rumpy-pumpy from an often-shirtless Liam Hemsworth as a local athlete who catches Tilly's eye, though quite what this fellow is still doing in such environs is open to debate, not least in the light of a set of Hollywood teeth that would seem to suggest more salubrious climes ahead. But I'm afraid I gave up on Moorhouse's lurching tone well before The Dressmaker arrived at its grand guignol catharsis. That said, those who stick it out to the final credits may be amused to note five people (!) who assisted Winslet in various capacities. Of the quintet, I was especially taken by the presence of a "sewing machine coach". That person may have done wonders with the garments, but it's the film as a whole that needs a major refit. 

Overleaf: watch the trailer for The Dressmaker





There's some improbable rumpy-pumpy from an often-shirtless Liam Hemsworth


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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