Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) can create, transform people and can bring to life every body’s assets hidden beneath the wrong sheets of fabrics and patterns. In “The Dressmaker” Academy Award winner Kate Winslet and Academy Award nominee Judy Davis star alongside as mother and daughter in a story about revenge clothed in exquisitely surprising creations.
Tilly/Myrtle was then ten years old when she was sent away and separated from her mother Molly (Davis), accused of a crime she herself couldn’t understand. Twenty years after, armed with a Singer sewing machine and courage to come back to care for her mother and uncover the truth behind the accusations thrown at her. Tilly reconnects with the townsfolk one stich at a time as she finds herself closer to the truth behind her past, eventually falling for the town’s local football hero, Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) whose family has also looked after Molly in her absence. Most importantly, she forms an initially volatile but finally tender reconciliation with her mother Molly.
Based on the highly-acclaimed book by Rosalie Ham, the character of Tilly seems drawn, at least in part, from Rosalie’s mother. “My mother was one of the dressmakers in Jerilderie. She happened to be divorced, and so there was a certain amount of scandal that was attached to that. She had to make a living as a seamstress. And I saw the difference in her role as the seamstress as opposed to the other ladies who were in the hierarchy of the town that wanted beautiful frocks made by her.
The casting of Tilly’s mother Molly Dunnage was crucial, but it had secretly been decided from the outset. Director Jocelyn Moorhouse says: “Judy Davis is a brilliant actress, one of the world’s best. In Woody Allen’s Husbands And Wives, she was so funny and I thought she will nail Molly, but she won’t just be funny, she’ll be really beautiful as this woman who’s had to put up with so much pain in her life but still has a great sense of humour.”
Judy Davis’ range, gravitas, wit and edge would be the perfect counterpoint to Kate Winslet. Sue says: “From Jocelyn and my perspective, you could not ask for anything more than to work with two of the greatest actresses working in the world today, Judy Davis and Kate Winslet and to put them together in a movie and see the magic.”
Molly Dunnage, or ‘Mad Molly’ as she’s casually known, is Tilly’s acerbic, unpredictable, and not-as-mad-as-she-seems mother. Molly says things, hurtful things, particularly to her daughter, which she may or may not mean. Like her daughter, Molly is sharp and forthright, she tells the residents of Dungatar how she sees it.
Sue Maslin says of the importance of Molly to the fabric of the film: “The thing that really helped right from the beginning was that Jocelyn said, ‘You know, all these things happen to Tilly, and yes there is a love story (with Teddy McSwiney) but the real love story is a mother-daughter relationship.’ And I thought, she’s so right – the relationship between Tilly and Molly is actually the emotional heartbeat that anchors everything else that happens in the film.”
Liam Hemsworth points to the special bond that Teddy McSwiney and Molly share. “A lot of people in Dungatar will talk behind people’s backs, Molly doesn’t do that, she’s upfront, she’ll call people out when it’s deserved and Teddy likes that. She’s got a lot of spirit.”
The film is replete with beautiful creations – sumptuous, elegant, even startling ones, depending on who’s wearing them and what the intended effect is on the part of the creator, as well as the wearer. Of the end results, and of her own character, who avoids transformation, Judy Davis says: “I think the costumes are absolutely wonderful. Given the size of the film, and limited time, Marion Boyce did a tremendous job. Molly didn’t have much of a wardrobe thank God, so that was pretty simple!”
“The Dressmaker” opens in theaters this November 4 from Axinite Digicinema.