Kate Winslet stars in the stylish but nasty and uneven ‘The Dressmaker’

dressmakerIn “The Dressmaker,” Kate Winslet plays Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, a seamstress who returns to her tiny Australian hometown, nursing a lifelong grudge against her former neighbors and hoisting a Singer sewing machine like a six-shooter.

Set in the early 1950s, this toxic tale of madness, mendacity, perversity and revenge is a manic, ultimately wearying pastiche of that era’s cinematic genres. One minute it’s quoting the twangy foreboding of spaghetti Westerns, the next it’s paying homage to moody noir thrillers.

Adapted from Rosalie Ham’s novel by director Jocelyn Moorhouse (who co-wrote the script with her husband, P.J. Hogan), “The Dressmaker” recalls the fablelike grotesqueries of Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, interweaving witty deep focus shots and carefully designed vignettes with repellent notions of human nature and behavior. More fatally, the filmmakers pay no attention to narrative or tonal coherence, instead trotting out wildly disconnected scenes that, at their best, bear little or no relation to what’s come before, and at their worst, are downright offensive (such as a marital rape scene that is played for laughs).

The details of Tilly’s misfortunes in the minuscule outpost called Dungatar eventually become clear, as do the reasons for her 25-year exile. Less logical are the reasons for her return. Granted, she wants to reconnect with her mother, a dotty, cantankerous old bat nicknamed Mad Molly (played with snaggletoothed relish by the great Judy Davis). And, OK, she wants to avenge her mistreatment as a child, when the mayor, schoolteacher and sundry bullies and hangers-on framed her for an act she didn’t commit.

But if she’s so angry, why does she put her sewing talents to use by draping her erstwhile enemies in dazzling couture creations? And how are we supposed to believe that ab-tastic love interest Teddy (Liam Hemsworth) is remotely believable as her contemporary, let alone someone who didn’t just pop over from the set of a modern-day rom-com?

Such distractions aside, “The Dressmaker” looks great, thanks to Donald McAlpine’s superb cinematography and gorgeous costumes that make even Dungatar’s frumpiest denizens look like Richard Avedon models.

But those bright spots don’t make up for what ultimately becomes a tiresome, increasingly nasty slog. Overplotted, undercooked and extremely well-dressed, “The Dressmaker” has style to burn, but it has a mean streak as wide as the Outback.

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A LITTLE CHAOS

A LITTLE CHAOS

Lionsgate and BBC Films present in association with
LipSync Films A Potboiler/The Bureau Production
A Film by Alan Rickman
A female landscape-gardener is awardedthe esteemed assignment to constructthe grand gardens at Versailles, a gilt-edged position which thrusts her to the very centre of the court of KingLouis XIV. Can she overcome thechallenges of this new and complexworld, and the ghosts of her own past tragedy, to secure a future with the
man she loves?
Madame Sabine De Barra is an unlikely candidate for landscape
architect of the still-to-be-completed palace of Versailles. She
has little time for the classical, ordered designs of the man who
hires her; the famous architect Le Notre. However, as she works
on her creation, she finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Le
Notre and forced to negotiate the perilous rivalries and intricate
etiquette of the court of King Louis XIV. But Sabine is made of
strong stuff; her honesty and compassionate nature help her to
overcome both the challenges of her newfound popularity, and an
unspeakable tragedy from her past, to win the favour of the Sun
King and the heart of Le Notre.
Alan Rickman directs Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts in
this sumptuous period romance.
A little chaos
STARRING Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts,
Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci
SCREENPLAY Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman,
Jeremy Brock
DIRECTOR Alan Rickman
PRODUCERS Gail Egan, Andrea Calderwood,
Bertrand Faivre
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS Zygi Kamasa, Guy
Avshalom, Patrick Wachsberger, Christine Langan,
Norman Merry, Richard Wolfe, Ray Cooper
SALES AGENT Lionsgate International
Release Dates
  • Portugal Mar 5, 2015
  • Australia Mar 26, 2015
  • United States Mar 27, 2015
  • United Kingdom Apr 17, 2015