The Dressmaker is an ambitious film, which attempts to combine the story of an Agatha Christie murder mystery with the humour of Hot Fuzz. Unfortunately, this interesting premise doesn’t quite manage to come together.
Based on the best-selling novel by Rosalie Ham, the story takes place in 1951 in the Australian Outback. Kate Winslet stars as Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, an expert dressmaker, who, after living in Paris, returns to her hometown of Dungatar. She was sent out of the town when she was ten because she was implicated in the death of a fellow school pupil.
Upon her arrival, she stays with her mentally unstable mother, “Mad” Molly Dunnage (Judy Davis) who claims to not remember her. As the film progresses we meet the other residents of Dungatar (Dungatarians?!) who view Tilly with a mixture of fascination and contempt. Among the townsfolk are hunky Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth), effeminate police officer Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving) and the film’s main antagonist Councillor Pettyman (Shane Bourne).
“the main issue with the dressmaker is that it just has too much going on … it seems like we’re watching an eastenders omnibus”
The main issue with The Dressmaker is that it just has too much going on. Throughout the course of the film we encounter an OCD housewife, a sadistic chemist, an unlikely marriage and a rival seamstress. It seems like we’re watching an Eastenders omnibus. And unfortunately these various plot strands are about as riveting as an issue of Hello magazine. These shortcomings can be just about tolerated for 90 minutes. However the film stretches on for over two hours culminating in a nonsensical and unbelievably macabre ending.
The film does have its bright moments, particularly whenever Winslet and Davis share the screen. The rest of the film’s superfluous plot lines and developments are just a means to try and develop this mother-daughter relationship. Davis in particular does well in the cantankerous, alcoholic role.
It’s a shame to see Winslet wasted in a film like The Dressmaker. Let’s hope her next film is a few stitches above this one.