When you think “Australian film” and stop thinking about grim tales of inner-city junkies, The Dressmaker is probably the kind of film that comes next: a big, sprawling, uneven but well-costumed, tale of Aussie-as types making jokes then getting serious at the drop of a hat.
No surprise then that this adaptation of Rosalie Ham’s successful novel was penned by P.J. Hogan of Muriel’s Wedding fame (and Mental infamy); it was his work back in the ’90s alongside Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Strictly Ballroom that really set this tone in stone.
It’s the 1950s and Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has returned to the tiny bush town she grew up in to get revenge on the various small-minded types that made her life hell. Her weapon? A sewing machine. With more than a few whiplash tone shifts – you’ll laugh you’ll cry is one way to put it – and a lot of performances that “broad” doesn’t begin to cover, this could have easily been a big mess. But Winslet keeps Tilly real no matter what, while Judy Davis as her crazy mum and Liam Hemsworth as a hunky footballer provide quality support. It’s the kind of over-the-top comedy Australia made when Australians went to see their own movies. There’s a good chance with this, they will again.
Reviewed by Anthony Morris