With that score you’d think you stepped in a screening of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. No, this is not Ennio Morricone, but Australian composer David Hirschfelder. And it’s not Clint Eastwood or Lee Van Cleef but Kate Winslet that is the star of The dressmaker, a film I would characterize as having, to our greatest pleasure, multiple personalities. As stated, because of the Morricone cloned score and the setting (the desert like town of Dungatar in the Australian outback), The dressmaker may seem like a western, but then gallops from one genre to another. The Rosalie Ham novel from which it is based is described as a ‘gothic novel’, but Jocelyn Moorhouse’s film feels more like a parody of a gothic novel. The dressmaker is the campiest film I’ve seen in a long time. Winslet plays Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage who after being banished from Dungatar comes back to town 25 years later. 25 Years earlier Tilly, then a schoolgirl, was accused of killing schoolboy Stewart Pettyman. With a resounding ‘I’m back, you bastards’, Tilly vows to prove her innocence and to exact revenge on those who have falsely accused her. The problem is that Tilly does not remember what happened on that fateful day. She arrives at her mother’s house impeccably dressed, having studied haute couture in Paris. Of course, where else? Her mother is Molly Dunnage (AKA Mad Molly, a moniker that suits her very well). After cleaning her mother’s dump of a house, and fighting with Molly, fighting some more, then some more, Tilly set up shop as a dressmaker. No one is happy to see her again, except Sergeant Horatio Farrat (a great turn by Hugo Weaving), local policeman and closeted cross-dresser. But soon Tilly gets a first client and she’s in business. Tilly also falls in love with hunky Teddy McSwiney (hunky Liam Hemsworth). The dressmaker starts as an absurdist comedy. Along the way it becomes a murder mystery with revenge and drama with pathos added to the mix later. Whatever it is, it is great fun. And there is nothing as fun as watching Kate Winslet and Judy Davis go at each other. Davis has found the perfect comedic part for her unique talent. Mad Molly is a crazy, hash brownies baker, hillbilly, alcoholic, no holds barred woman. I don’t think that Kate Winslet has ever been as good as she is here, nor has she ever had such a difficult part. This is a most assured performance to date. Both she and Davis are at their best. Hope they are remembered at Oscar time. Let me say it again: Fun! Fun! Fun!
Adapted from the Rosalie Ham novel of the same name