If you liked great Australian films like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), The Castle (1997) and The Sapphires (2012), then add this movie to that wonderful list.
Director Jocelyn Moorehouse’s The Dressmaker joins Queen of Katwe on this Fall’s hidden cinematic gems. No, it doesn’t quite rise to the level of Queen, but it is a charming Australian film filled with style, intrigue and a colossal sense of good humor.
The Dressmaker stars the illustrious Kate Winslet as a young woman who returns to her rural home in Australia to settle a few scores. She is a talented clothing designer who just left Europe, and her clothing and makeup freezes the entire town the moment she arrives.
The film takes place in the early 1950s, and Ms. Winslet looks absolutely stunning. Furthermore, she knows it. The men and women of the town can’t take their eyes off of her, and that includes Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving), a transvestite who would love to have Ms. Winslet design a proper dress for him. Mr. Weaving gives a captivating performance, and you are once again reminded of his remarkable talent as previously demonstrated in the three Matrix films (1999, 2003), the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003) and the unforgettable V for Vendetta (2006).
From the beginning the movie makes it clear that Ms. Winslet’s Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage has multiple reasons for returning home. She is still suspected of being responsible for the death of a young boy when she was barely a teenager, and a curse follows her that she needs to resolve.
However, it is her relationship with her estranged mother Molly that will hold your attention. Judy Davis gives one of the great performances of 2016 as Momma Dunnage, a reclusive mother living in an unkempt hovel where she keeps a opossum as a fury border. In addition, she endures derision from most of the townsfolk. She resembles a cave dweller with a black tooth, and you will love the relationship that is rekindled between mother and daughter.
Liam Hemsworth plays Teddy McSwiney, a young soccer player who falls in love with Tilly at first sight. Tilly initially has no time or interest in any man, and the relationship between the two becomes a focal point of how mother and child deal with their small town.
Let me close with a reference to a moment where Teddy shows up at Tilly’s door to be outfitted for a suit. (You can see it in the film’s trailer.) Mother and daughter are left staring at him when he strips down to his underwear, and mom politely suggests that he consider getting married to either a “spinster”, referring to her daughter, or an “old hag”, pointing to herself. That scene captures the spirit of the entire film, and you really should try to hunt it down while it still plays at an isolated theater.