Like a gunslinger riding into town, determined and dangerous: This is how Tilly Dunnage (the marvelous Kate Winslet) returns to her backwater Australian hometown. The year is 1951, and Tilly comes armed only with a Singer sewing machine, her Parisian-inspired haute-couture style, and a super-powered ache for revenge. Fashion becomes a tragicomic weapon in a witty, genre-busting dramedy that simmers with pathos, humor and calamity as Tilly brings elegant civilization to the middle of nowhere—and a much-needed lift to the spirits of the downtrodden local women in a place seething with deceit, bigotry, hypocrisy and small-mindedness. Adapting Rosalie Ham’s novel, director Jocelyn Moorhouse pulls no punches depicting the distinct sort of soul-crushing women are subjected to, and turns fashion and beauty into outward expressions of the mustering of inner resources it takes to survive. The Dressmaker asks us to appreciate not how these women look, but how they feel about how they look, a uniquely fresh take in a medium dominated by the male gaze. It’s all so entertaining, so unexpected, so wonderfully oddball, so damn good.
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