Review: “The Dressmaker”

By Natalie Whalen, Staff Writer

“The Dressmaker,” a 2015 Australian film starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth and Judy Davis is coming to a theater near you.

The film, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, is based on Rosalie Ham’s novel of the same name and takes place in the early 1950s. It follows main character Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet), an expatriate Parisian dressmaker, as she returns to her hometown of Dungatar under the pretense of caring for her sickly mother (Judy Davis). Despite being away for 25 years, Tilly discovers that not much about the quirky outback town has changed — especially the townspeople’s opinions of her.

Quickly, we learn that Tilly’s motives for return are far more complex than just to take care of her mother, the ill-tempered “Mad Molly.” She has returned to find clarity and clear her name, tarnished at only 10 years old when she was branded a murderer in the death of a classmate, Stewart Pettyman.

Like many films based upon novels, there are many competing and not always overlapping tensions in the film, making the storytelling somewhat shoddy and fragmented. Even after clearing her name in Stewart’s murder, she is faced with repairing her relationships with the townspeople, competing against a rival dressmaking business, rekindling her relationship with her mother and building a relationship with Ted (Liam Hemsworth), a childhood friend. Motivations tend to be unclear and are not well explained; those who have read the book will have a much better understanding of — and greater appreciation for — the film.

Tilly’s relationship with Ted has sparked much controversy regarding the 15-year age gap between Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth. Although this is not that large of a gap for Hollywood, it is confusing in the context of the film. Kate and Liam’s characters are supposed to be peers; Tilly is 35, not a far cry from Kate’s 40. Liam, however, was only 25 at the time of filming, as were the rest of Tilly’s peers in the film, give or take a few years. When asked about the age gap, filmmaker Moorhouse replied brazenly that she didn’t want to “make a big deal out of it.” This may be true, and props to Moorhouse for making this progressive choice, but this is one instance where the gap between the two actors is so striking that it takes away from the film’s believability.

Despite some issues in terms of storytelling and continuity, the acting is a definite high point of the film. Kate Winslet performs very well as Tilly Dunnage; despite the aforementioned age gap, she is very believable in her role. The real star, however, is without a doubt Judy Davis’ Molly, who is loveable despite being incredibly annoying throughout the film. Both actors received Australian Academy Awards for their performances, along with co-star Hugo Weaving.

“The Dressmaker” will be released in the U.S. on Sept. 23.

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