Broad Green Pictures 1 hr 59 minutes R
This film has everything. It’s got big stars, drama, mystery, murder, sex, romance, comedy, but what makes it most unusual is high period fashion in the most unlikely place.
Director/Screenwriter, Jocelyn Moorhouse says the idea of “couture as a weapon” stuck with her and she pulls it off beautifully in this film starring Kate Winslet as The Dressmaker. Tilly comes back to her dusty, Western style home town of Dungatar in Australia seething with attitude and seeking revenge. She is wearing the most exquisite 1950’s haute couture having worked at the best fashion houses, such as Dior and Balenciaga in Paris.
When she lands, she relishes the looks and attention she knew she would receive. Why? Tilly was run out of town at the age of 10. Her mother, played brilliantly by Judy Davis, is a witch of a woman. What in the world would make Tilly want to ever come back to this place and this Mum? It’s obvious. Tilly has a plan. And the women in this ugly place take stock of Tilly’s brilliant talent to make haute couture. They jump into her net. She makes spectacular outfits that they turn heads till they practically explode.
When she shows up at a football (rugby) game in a jaw-dropping, sexy, red gown, cigarette holder and all, she distracts the players to the point of affecting the score. There’s a lot of humor and fun in this scene. Footballer, Teddy, played by handsome hunk, Liam Hemsworth, is immediately taken. Hemsworth is awestruck as the man who is captivated by her and, eventually, this handsome hunk captivates Tilly in return. He plays Teddy just right and is utterly charming as the love interest. And wait till you see him get measured for his own outfit! When his shirt came off, there were audible swoons in our screening.
Tilly starts taking requests to update and, at the same time, rile others in the town by making outfits for them. She even helps local cop, Sergeant Farrat played with fun by Hugo Weaving, who is a cross dresser. She helps him live out his fantasies making extraordinary outfits for him too! Tilly has ulterior motives for sewing these fabulous creations for Sgt. Farrah, and for the women of Dungatar. The dialogue is subtle, but the fashions are extravagant juxtaposed against the town's dusty backdrop.
Of course, she runs into lots of opposition and attitude from some of the people who turned on her as a child, as well as her mean-spirited mother. At the same time, she is trying to resist melting to the advances of lovestruck Teddy so she can complete her mission to get to the truth of her past. Each character has an influence on Tilly’s situation and their roles are well played out in the script. How they affect the ending may surprise you.
Director Moorhouse says she always wanted Winslet to play Tilly because she has the strength, beauty, and sensuality needed to play such a complex character. Judy Davis had an even more complicated role that required high comedy as well as emotional drama. Their fight over a wheel chair is both, as is the tug of war in their relationship. There are puzzling highs and lows as they interact.
Moorhouse describes Cinematographer Don McAlpine (Moulin Rouge, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) as a painter of light capturing the fashions of the 50’s. And she has high praise for costume designer Margot Wilson who made the costumes for Kate Winslet. The actress not only learned how to sew on a professional Singer sewing machine, but worked with Wilson on the designs. “Kate knows what suits her and the period.” Wilson says that cause a little more pressure than usual to get it right, but we think they did.
The hair, makeup and costumes are exquisite and add so much to the story. They are like another character. Sarah Snook as the homely girl longing to get with the rich son of a snooty woman does a complete transformation. Her gold lamé gown in addition to her magnificent wedding dress create the change needed to enhance her role.
There is a lot going on in this film. It's intriguing. There are so many ins and outs. Winslet shows an amazing amount of restraint as Tilly. She plans her strategy to get revenge which nearly gets undermined by her feelings for Teddy. There are funny scenes and terribly tragic twists that make this a real roller coaster ride. But visually, you won’t be disappointed seeing these magnificent costumes in the most unlikely setting. Or just come to see Liam Hemsworth take his shirt off!