What, oh what to think of The Dressmaker. I loved the book by Rosalie Ham, but read it when it first came out some 15 years ago, so have only a memory of the bare bones of the story and am unable to tell if the film captures the novel, or has invented the mayhem you see on the screen. Because mayhem it is – the tone shifts from Aussie Western to femme fatale to slapstick humour to Dad & Dave to Priscilla Queen of the Desert to bodice ripping romance to pathos within a blink of an eye.
Apart from the Dressmaker herself (Kate Winslet, looking absolutely gorgeous and with an excellent Australian accent) everyone else is drawn with such broad brush strokes that it is hard to take anything or anyone seriously.
But, just when you settle into thinking this is all very tongue in cheek – and it is obvious that the who’s who of Australian actors are having a whale of a time with their characters – the rug gets ripped out from under you with some genuine sadness. And, some nasty little subjects like domestic violence are also bubbling away under the slippery surface of so called humour (and there is one fleetingly disturbing scene of what is essentially marital rape).
The fact that it is so obviously a set, and the overheated music score, all add to the staginess of the film. And the glaring age differences made it difficult to swallow that Tilly went to school with Teddy (the very hunky Liam Hemsworth) , or Gertrude (Sarah Snook) for that matter.
But, the frocks are simply fabulous, Kate Winslet eats up the screen, Liam Hemsworth takes off his shirt, Judy Davis has a ball as Tilly’s Mum – so, despite everything, the film is entertaining. But, I have to admit, also ultimately disappointing.