The Dressmaker is the sort of comfy, arguably amiable, tragicomic character study that never quite goes out of style — if we can use “comfy” to describe a revenge scenario with five violent deaths. Chalk up the ambiguities to it being Australian, and the delicious combination of dark obsession and cuteness to filmmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse and her leading lady, Kate Winslet.
The trouble begins in 1951, when the forcefully glamorous Tilly Dunnage (Winslet) returns to her dusty Australian home to settle some old scores with the townsfolk. On Tilly’s side are her reclusive, slightly batty mother Molly (Judy Davis), the cross-dressing town constable Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving), and Teddy, the handsome young Ozzie-rules footballer who lives in a shack down the hill (Liam Hemsworth). On the other side are a bunch of comically prim and proper prunes who blame Tilly for the demise of a local boy when they were both children.
That death casts a long shadow over what we initially expect to be a lighthearted tournament of laughs between seamstress Tilly, who excels at whipping up high-fashion women’s outfits with her old-fashioned sewing machine, and the extended family of Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook), a wallflower whom Tilly turns into a Vogue magazine lollapalooza. A little pants-down slapstick, a little blunt trauma, and knife games. Put Tilly in Winslet’s “Pretty Poison” file alongside her characters from The Reader, Hideous Kinky, and Heavenly Creatures, and mark The Dressmaker as a taste it takes the full two hours to acquire.