Film Review: The Dressmaker

by Samantha Ho

Rated M. Starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis. Screenplay by Rosalie Ham and P. J. Hogan. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse.

How can one get rid of the curse as a result of their former wrongdoing?

Based off Rosalie Ham’s book of the same title, The Dressmaker recounts Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage’s (Winslet) unexpected return to her hometown, Dungatar, to figure out whether or not the reason for her exile was due to her being accused of murdering a classmate in her youth. As it is no insignificant return for the residents, she is met with hostility from her neighbours who view her as bad news, and her mother Molly (Davis), who claims to remember little about her. Tilly wants to remember who she was and what made her – and as soon as she is confronted with the truth, it leaves her into deep fear, confusion and self-denial.

Set in 1950s rural Australia, the location set is a sight for sore city eyes. The dry, earthy setting, whilst giving off feelings of local community and relative quietness, was also the perfect place for capturing the moral landscape of its inhabitants. So when Tilly brings her modern chic and vibrant dressmaking skills to Dungatar, it became a confronting visual contrast.

Elements of crime thriller, romance, tragedy and comedy are clumped together in The Dressmaker, which at times led me to play catch-ups in processing what was going on. A very heart-warming moment ends abruptly in a death. A murder is quickly rushed off as a comedy. Your favourite character suddenly leaves. For such an enticing plot and great acting, I was disappointed at the shortness of the film, and was left wondering whether the book was similar in its presentation.

People often fantasise living in quaint little towns of the past. But The Dressmaker reveals that people are destructive in any age or place. We hurt people and are hurt by people. Unfortunately there is no ‘safe haven’ on earth where we are free from relationship anguish or moral failure.

Molly says to Tilly as she recognises her talent something along these lines: “You have the power to create. To transform. Use it.” Sure, she has a remarkable ability to change someone’s appearance, but she doesn’t have the ability to change their heart, or her own. Despite designing a stunning formal dress for former classmate, Trudy (Sarah Snook), her obsession with her reputation makes her ugly on the inside. Clothes can’t cover up the mess of the heart completely. Even for herself, Tilly sees herself as a curse that brings destruction, but what can rescue her? Is there true redemption for her?

Clothing is an interesting metaphor used in the Bible. When Adam and Eve, the first humans God created, rejected His loving authority, the two realised they were naked  and sewed fig leaves to cover their shame (Genesis 3:7). However, material clothing could never hide the real machinations of the human heart, which God denounces as deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). From it leads to all sorts of evil and wicked behaviours (Mark 7:21-23), many of which you can see in the characters’ thoughts and actions! Isaiah prophesied that “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). This would be fulfilled in Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice on the cross. The result of this amazing event for those who trust in Him would be the provision of clean clothes – Revelation 7:9-10,14:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!…” They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The clothes featured on The Dressmaker are outstanding, but a heart reconciled to God and made pure is even more amazing. Whilst the movie portrayed a promising storyline, great acting and cinematography, it left me wanting better transitioning between scenes and additional plot development. I’m giving The Dressmaker three out of five stars.

The Dressmaker releases in Australia on Thursday 29th October, and in the UK on Friday 20th November.

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