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Film review: The Dressmaker – Kate Winslet seeks revenge in patchwork quilt story

Jaunty cinematography, great costumes and cast let down by plot’s superficiality and lack of direction

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 3:03pm

2.5/5 stars

After almost two decades away from directing, Australian filmmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof, How to Make an American Quilt) returns with this bizarre home-grown curiosity. Feeling like it belongs to that 1990s era of garish movies from Down Under, perhaps it’s no surprise the co-writer is her husband P.J. Hogan, the director of Aussie camp classic Muriel’s Wedding.

Taken from the book by Rosalie Ham, this 1950s-set tale stars Kate Winslet as Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage, a Paris-trained seamstress who returns to her hometown to wreak revenge. When she puts down her sewing machine, cut to some sub-Sergio Leone music, lighting up a smoke like Clint Eastwood, you might think Moorhouse is riffing on the Western. In fact, it’s rather hard to say what she’s aiming for with this patchwork quilt film.

Dunnage is back with scores to settle and demons to bury, after it’s revealed she was spirited away from rural Dungatar when she was 10 years old for allegedly killing a classmate (automatically bringing to mind Winslet’s time on her 1994 Antipodean adventure, Heavenly Creatures). Judy Davis plays Molly, her batty, memory-addled matriarch, and there’s room for Liam Hemsworth to get his shirt off as the local hunk Teddy.

With Myrtle inexplicably running up haute couture outfits for the locals as part of her unclear scheme, the film is as superficial as a catwalk parade. It’s visually appealing: the costumes are memorable, the cinematography jaunty, and the cast pleasing to the eye. But the stitches come loose on this melodramatic mess long before the final reel.

The Dressmaker opens on April 21

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