The Dressmaker

Posted on September 22, 2016 at 5:29 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for for brief language and a scene of violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and tipsiness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence, murder, sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 23, 2016

Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Kate Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage, a woman with secrets who returns to the tiny Australian town that threw her out as a child. She has become an accomplished couturier, working in London, Paris, and Milan. And she is a master of the bias cut, pioneered by Vionnet, whose photograph she carries with her for inspiration. This film, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham is also, in its way, cut on the bias, alternately wildly funny, wildly romantic, wildly satiric, and, at the same time, dark and tragic. Some will find that disconcerting; others will find it refreshing.

It is 1951. Tilly arrives home in the dust-covered town, her stylish heels stepping off the bus onto the dirt road. She goes up the hill to her mother’s shack, when there is a question from the local sheriff. “Is that…….Dior?” It is not; it is one of Tilly’s own designs. But she acknowledges the Dior inspiration. Sargent Ferrat (Hugo Weaving) is dazzled by the bold colors and sumptuous fabrics of Tilly’s designs. He’s a secret cross-dresser.

Winslet is marvelous as Tilly, who has come home to see her mother, known as Mad Molly (Judy Davis of “My Brilliant Career”), to find out the true story of what led to her exile, and to extract some revenge, both of the “living well is the best” variety and of the old-fashioned “make them suffer” variety as well. Tilly, then known as Myrtle, was abused by her teacher and the students in her class because she was poor and because her mother was not married. After an incident that resulted in the death of a boy in her class, she was sent away. The experience was so traumatizing that she cannot let herself remember exactly what happened, and worries that she was responsible, as everyone thinks. “Am I a murderer?” she asks of her mother.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse and editor Jill Bilcock bring a vibrant energy to the storytelling that suits the theme of Tilly’s force and focus having an impact on the insular little town, and it is a lot of fun to see assumptions challenged and relationships in upheaval. There is a woman crippled by her wife-beating husband, a pharmacist who seems to be suffering from ankylosing spondylitis as he is bent over parallel to the ground. A civil leader gives his wife, agoraphobic and germophobic since the death of their son, knock-out medicine and then rapes her when she is unconscious. There are vicious gossips and snobs. And there are a few kind-hearted people, Ferrat, who regrets his treatment of Tilly and Teddy (Liam Hemsworth, clearly relishing the chance to speak in his native accent and very swoon-worthy when he removes his shirt). Molly becomes less mad and more feisty under Tilly’s care. Ferrat is not the only one who cannot resist the chance to wear something spectacular. “A dress never changed anything,” a local girl longing to be noticed by the town’s most eligible bachelor says to “Tilly.” “Watch and learn, my girl. Watch and learn.” And we know a Cinderella at the ball moment is coming — when it does, it is breathtaking. Soon, the tiny backwater is populated with ladies wearing haute couture. This has to be a dream assignment for a costume designer, and Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson (Winslet’s clothes) rise to the occasion with fabulously gorgeous and entertaining dresses.

The heightened quality of the story makes the darker turns unexpected and disconcerting. It is not as much of a feel-good movie as it originally promises. But it has its odd pleasures, and one of them is that, like its heroine, it has style to space.

Parents should know that this movie includes some strong language, drinking and drunkenness, sexual references and situations with some nudity, adultery and questions of paternity, domestic violence, murder, and very sad deaths.

Family discussion: What did Tilly want from her return home? Why was Teddy different?

If you like this, try: “Strictly Ballroom” and “Muriel’s Wedding”

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Comedy Drama Movies Romance Satire

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