Here’s a recipe you can really sink your teeth into: Take a pair of Academy Award-nominated actresses (Kate “free the nipple” Winslet, who’s actually won one, and Judy Davis who, incredible though it may seem, has not). Add a hunky Hemsworth (Liam) and a womanly Weaving (Hugo). Blend them thoroughly into a spicy, revengeful mix (taking Rosalie Ham’s best-selling Gothic novel as your guide) and bake for a full two hours. The result: The Dressmaker, a tasty concoction our chefs left in the oven just a wee bit too long, but not long enough to spoil.
At the tender age of ten, Tilly Dunnage—great name by the way—was run out of her backwoods Australian town under the suspicion that she murdered a schoolyard bully. As Jocelyn Moorhouse’s film opens some twenty years later, Tilly is back, hoping to build bridges with her “mad,” reclusive mother Molly while exacting revenge on “the barstards” who exiled her. Key to this sexy Singer wrong writer’s arsenal are the killer dressmaking skills she honed while crossing The Continent—London, Milan, Paris. For with the ability to dress the prim and improper ladies of Dungatar comes a power Tilly wields to devastating effect.
Winslet and Davis are formidable in The Dressmaker, the former voluptuous and menacing, with the merest hint of an Aussie accent, the latter snaggle toothed and haggard yet singularly graceful. It’s a joy watching these women take command of the material, no pun intended. By contrast, Hemsworth, the town pretty boy supporting a developmentally-challenged brother, is all eye candy, but does a fine job in that department. Weaving’s role, as a finery-fancying policeman, is a little precious, but the star of The Matrix manages to keep his character from skittering into caricature. The assorted townsfolk, however, are precisely that—broad and cartoonish and indifferently drawn.
Despite hopping the rails in its final showdown, The Dressmaker manages to be a gorgeously-photographed charmer with plenty to recommend it, with both Winslet and Davis outstanding. That “R” rating, though—”for brief language and a scene of violence”—is just plain ridiculous.
(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth