by writer/director Jocelyn Moorhouse
The Dressmaker is the first film I have directed in more than 18 years. I didn’t intend to take so much time away from a career I love, but motherhood intervened (and a complicated motherhood indeed with four kids, two of them affected by severe autism). But amazingly in 2015, I found myself back in the director’s chair, working with the extraordinarily talented Kate Winslet, the legendary and hilarious Judy Davis and reunited with my good friend Hugo Weaving, who had starred as a twisted blind photographer in my very first film Proof back in 1991.
The Dressmaker is the kind of movie I love to watch. Set in a stylized outback town in the 1950s, the story follows glamorous Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet), who returns to her dusty home town to right some wrongs and punish the evildoers who separated her from her mother 25 years earlier. Along the way, she falls in love with the gorgeous Teddy McSwiney (played by Liam Hemsworth in his very own Australian accent) and reconnects with her hilariously acerbic mother (Judy Davis).
Based on the best-selling Australian novel by Rosalie Ham, this movie is funny, sexy, beautiful to look at, and also very emotional. Be warned, there are some dark, but always entertaining surprises. I like to say the film is ‘Unforgiven, but with a sewing machine and Haute couture.’ It’s about the hunger for revenge, the magic of transformation and the healing power of love. At its core, it is also about a mother and daughter who have been cruelly separated for years and eventually find their way back to each other.
Kate Winslet and Judy Davis had amazing chemistry on set, and you can see it on the screen. Newcomer Sarah Snook is stunning as the ugly duckling who is transformed, by Tilly’s designs, into a swan. Her comedic skills are a true delight. Hugo Weaving is hilarious as the small town police officer with a secret penchant for glamorous frocks. Liam Hemsworth is delightful as the laconic Aussie charmer who falls in love with Tilly.
The look of the film was very important to me. I worked closely with legendary cinematographer Don McAlpine and genius production designer Roger Ford to create a vivid palette in the style of iconic Spaghetti Westerns by Sergio Leone. We built the outback town of Dungatar to match the feeling of a “Western” style town, and we also took inspiration from the paintings of Russell Drysdale, who used earth tones of rust, ochre and browns to capture his scenes of outback life. With the collaboration of costume designers Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson, we deliberately made the townsfolk’s costumes in the same palette, so that Tilly and her couture creations would really pop against the dusty background. The soundtrack, by David Hirschfelder, also took inspiration from Spaghetti Westerns. I hope audiences love the The Dressmaker as much as I loved making it.