RogerBW's Blog

The Dressmaker 05 January 2018

2015 drama, dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse, Kate Winslet, Judy Davis: IMDb / allmovie. In 1950s rural Australia, Tilly Dunnage is coming home to upend the small town that threw her out as a child.

The trailer made it look like Tamara Drewe or Cold Comfort Farm transplanted to Australia, the sophisticated urban woman confusing the rurals, and there's certainly some of that here; but while there's comedy, there's a whole lot more anger. Tilly was sent away for a reason that she can't quite remember, but she's sure it's not resolved even now.

I'm not going to talk much about the story, though, because it's worth coming to it unexpectedly; there are moments of discovery that I am sure will lose their force on a re-watch. Yes, there's turning of the local geese into swans. But there's also the uncovering of the town's many semi-open secrets, and resolution of them, and whether the resolutions are for good or ill they do at least allow things to move forward.

There's something here that one rarely sees in the world of male filmmakers: real complexity to and differentiation of the female characters, as well as a fair amount of female gaze (largely at Liam Hemsworth as Teddy, the local hunk who decides he has a crush on Tilly). Even when she's about to kiss Teddy, Tilly can't quite relax, always has to be aware of the potential for things to go suddenly and horribly wrong, and this is wordlessly but superbly portrayed by Winslet. Combine this with much of the visual and auditory grammar of a spaghetti Western, and this is a film that clearly brings its own material as well as being an adaptation of a book. (Indeed, certain events surrounding the ending are deliberately changed, in a way that makes more sense to me than the novel's version.)

The film was a success in Australia, but barely promoted elsewhere. Now that she's Old (over 40!), Hollywood would clearly much rather have Winslet, known for her tough female characters, playing simple villainous roles like Jeanine in Divergent or Irina in the utterly disposable crime thriller Triple 9, nice safe scenery-chewers who get what's coming to them.

Trailer here; MaryAnn Johanson's review here.

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