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Byron Shire
March 1, 2021

Cinema Review – The Dressmaker

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My companion leaned across and, with despair in her voice, whispered, ‘Do you think this will ever end?’ She was suffering big time and all I could do was sigh in sympathy – for I was, too. Nobody takes pleasure in putting the boot into an Australian movie. It is hardly a level playing field when competing with the money, glamour and PR of Hollywood, but sometimes it’s better to forgo the option of damning with faint praise in favour of brutal honesty; this is an excruciating film.

‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has returned to the dusty town from where she was ostracised as a child. It is the early 1950s and why she would bother, having made a name for herself in the fashion hubs of Paris and London, is anybody’s guess, but there is a dark secret concerning the death of a boy in her class at school that needs to be exorcised.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, in collaboration with her partner P J Hogan, has adapted Rosalie Ham’s popular novel (I’m unfamiliar with it) and produced a dog’s breakfast in the process. For a start, it can find no consistent tone, lurching blindly from comedy (not that it is remotely funny), to drama (of an attempted Gothic nature), to what at times seems to be a TV-type spoof. Winslet does her best to keep Tilly in the realms of plausibility, but she is surrounded by performances that are immediately catapulted into the ridiculous without ever bothering with the sublime. In the case of Hugo Weaving as the cross-dressing police sergeant, it might be harsh to call for the stage hook because the character he portrays is too silly for words. Admittedly, Liam Hemsworth as Teddy, the beefcake with whom Tilly will get up close and personal, survives the mess with some dignity, for he is a handsome young man not given to the face-pulling of his fellow players, though surely Kate is old enough to be his mother rather than his passionate squeeze. They should have an ‘I survived’ T-shirt for it.

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  1. After reading that scathing review, by whom, I’m not sure……the author needs to keep watching the ‘money, glamour and PR’ of the crap that comes out of Hollywood.
    I saw this movie in a theatre of over 100 people, and did not hear one word of anything but praise and enjoyment of this film! The cinematography, dresses, accomplished acting by Judy Davis and cast was brilliant.
    Instead of wondering “Do you thin this will ever end?” , I was thinking, how refreshing to have a film where I don’t try to see my watch in the dark because it is droning on and on…as I do with the american crap!
    God help the author of this piece of criticism if they found no humour in this piece….must have been born in the wrong generation! You are excruciating…..

  2. I agree with Celia. It was a brilliant Australian film.
    Probably the reviewer was not Australian and did not understand our sense of humour.
    I have read the book and it too was excellent.
    5 stars – well done.

  3. Australian film makers have a terrific lineage in respect to quality humour. Films like the Castle and the Dish among those we can easily relate to in this respect. I maintain that the Dressmaker joins this elite band of Australian films. Not since the film Gandhi have I heard an audience burst into spontaneous applause at the conclusion of a film. While it has its own quintessential qualities the acting is excellent and the actors work off each other in a very natural and endearing way. Judy Davis is exceptional in her role as Mad Molly with Hugo Weaving and Kate Winslet well cast and superb in theirs. They work well together and it is their relationship throughout the film that gives it its character. While it may not be a big money spinner overseas, as you need to understand the Aussie sense of humour to really enjoy it, the response of the audience with belly laughs and applause is testimony to the success of the film. We need more films like this.

  4. Totally agree with Celia – did we actually see the same movie as John Campbell? I went with a friend and her mother on Saturday 07/11 and we absolutely loved it – laughed and cried and others clapped at the end it was so good. I went in with no expectations and would have to rate this as one of the best – humour, drama, grief, revenge, bitter sweet – just excellent!

  5. i saw this all i did was laugh and laugh i only had to look at judy davis and i cracked up it was a bit flat towards the end but wonderfurful funny as the best laugh i have had for ever?????????

  6. I saw this movie with a friend last week and my sister did in Sydney. I have also met others who have also enjoyed the movie.
    Maybe it’s time for the critic to hang up their pen/Ipad etc.

  7. WOW..must have seen a different movie. The 100 plus people in the cinema with me also seemed to love it. Yes I agree that the casting was a little weird in relation to Kate’s age..and I picked it up and let it go pretty fast. I loved it. Start to finish. Brilliant, light, great acting..fun.

  8. I totally agree with John Campbell on this one.
    I just saw the film, and it reminded me of an Ed Wood Film ,only beautifully shot.
    It didn’t know it it was supposed to be funny, or tragic, or dramatic. So they just appear to have mixed them all up in a hodge-podge of cliched characters and wildly improbable scenarios.
    The facial expressions and acting of the ladies were straight out of the silents.
    The tugging and fighting in the dressmaking scenes was so contrived; in fact, all the ‘action’ looked like a school play day farce.
    The plot careered from ‘comedy’ to tragedy in an instant. The death of Ted and Tilly’s mother was apparently forgotten in an instant, as costumes were needed for an eisteddfod.
    Then all the sudden deaths- running headlong onto ponds, husbands being stabbed by long suffering wives- I got to thinking, “What ridiculous thing could it possibly do next?”. Then comes the burning of the whole town. That was it for me.If it hadn’t been at the end of the film, I’d have walked out.
    The whole thing lacked believeability. If it was intended to be black comedy, drama, comedy or tragedy, it didn’t succeed on any level.Sorry, I don’t like to dump on Aussie films. I’ve seen some good ones over the years, but I can’t lie about this one. To me, it’s a stinker.

  9. The reviewer’s head is up their arse. One of the best, most enjoyable, and unique films I’ve seen in a long time. Some people just don’t “get it”.


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