Mystery and vengeance are ingredients of “The Dressmaker,” an odd tale from Australia set in the 1950s and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, who wrote the screenplay with P.J. Hogan. Shown at the 2015 Toronto international Film Festival and now released, the film has the benefit of Kate Winslow as its star, and she is quite the character as Tilly Dunnage, who returns to the backwater Australian town of Dungatar.
When she was 10 years old Tilly was blamed for a tragic event, and she left town. Eventually, she went to Paris and became a fashion designer, and now, with her skills and a sight to behold, she has returned to look after her elderly mother, Molly, quite a character, played by Judy Davis.
Tilly begins applying her skills to dressing some of the women in town, which brings envy on the part of others and also resentment at the sexuality introduced via the fashions. There is a hard-core contingency of nastiness, reinforced by the old bias against Tilly for what she is supposed to have done. Was she responsible for the death of a boy? It is a mystery to be unraveled.
Tilly harbors her own grudge as well as self-doubts, and as the film develops colorfully, with an abundance of atmosphere injected into the storytelling plus a dash of romance, the tension builds to a climax. Whether or not you approve of what Tilly finally does, you are likely to be impressed with Winslet’s performance as Tilly gets even as if in an American western. She is definitely not a woman who can forgive and forget. Reviewed September 23, 2016.