In the UK some reviews for The Dressmaker were so bitchy and churlish, it’s almost as if the critics were watching a different movie from the one that one million Aussies have enjoyed and appreciated.

The condescending and at times derisive tone smacks of cultural snobbery and an inability to grasp that director Jocelyn Moorhouse and her co-writer P. J. Hogan did a splendid job in adapting Rosalie Ham’s novel.

Tellingly, almost all the naysayers are male. While most Aussie critics hailed Judy Davis’ superbly pitched performance, some of their Pommy counterparts were disdainful.

While it’s hard to quantify the impact of reviews on ticket sales, The Dressmaker opened on 202 screens in the UK, generating a modest £236,000 ($A496,000) in its first three days, according to Rentrak.

Producer Sue Maslin tells IF, “There were strong reactions for and against in the UK. That says something about a film which is different and original and celebrates females’ ideas of pleasure.”

In its fourth weekend In Australia the film raked in $1.2 million (easing by 39 per cent), bringing its tally to $13.7 million.  The US deal is expected to be announced this week.

Among the most positive reviews, The Daily Mail’s Brian Viner opined, “The Dressmaker asks a lot of its audience, not least in the way it keeps changing tempo, from knockabout black comedy to twisted revenge thriller to romance to tragedy and back again.

“But it is never less than sumptuous to look at. Moorhouse and her veteran cinematographer Don McAlpine… have made a visually stunning film, exploiting those strange, wide-open, almost Dali-esque vistas that Australia offers.

“Moreover, Winslet and Davis are both so good, bringing genuine poignancy to the evolving mother-daughter relationship, that I found myself sucked into their strange world, even if it’s a bit much to expect us to believe in the love affair between Tilly and Teddy, Hemsworth’s character.”

Empire’s Anna Smith described the age difference as just one of the “fantastical elements of this muddled adaptation of Rosalie Ham’s bestselling novel, in which melodramatic episodes sit oddly with the dark comedy. But it’s still a giggle, largely thanks to Tilly’s cantankerous mother (Judy Davis) and the camp local cop (Hugo Weaving).”

The Independent’s Geoffrey Macnab observed, “Jocelyn Moorhouse's latest feature is lively and enjoyable enough, and often gorgeous to look at, but undermined by its shifting storytelling styles.

"Winslet gives a nicely judged comic performance as the femme fatale in the high-couture clothes, while Davis mugs it up shamelessly as her Worzel Gummidge-like mom. Disconcertingly, though, the comedy is combined with dark melodrama dealing with bereavement, childhood trauma and shared guilt. A film that starts off seeming satirical begins to take itself very seriously and, as a result, loses almost all of its initial comic zest.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Tim Robey seems to have let his prejudice against Winslet cloud his view, writing, “The Dressmaker, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s royally daffy adaptation of a novel by Rosalie Ham, builds itself around such a frivolous conceit you could almost call it brave: it's about Kate Winslet bringing stitchcraft to the 1950s Australian outback. It could have been a transfixing folly if, say, Baz Luhrmann had made it. Instead, it's destined to be a minor trinket in the curiosity box of Winslet's star vehicles.”

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw clearly misunderstood the entire film, declaring, “There’s something chokingly terrible about this film, with its two-hour accumulation of sentimentality building to a pure, clanging wrongness in the tonally misjudged mix of unfunny small town comedy and unconvincing small town tragedy.”

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23 Comments

  1. Conversely, perhaps the UK critics are exactly on the money, and a couple of local critics were swayed by parochialism and loyalty? Several were not kind. Including Jason DiRosso from ABCRN.

    One seems to recall international critics were rather savage towards the film at Toronto, if not universally?

    Each to his own, Don.

  2. Go the Brit critics! I was starting to the think The Dressmaker should be re-named The Emperor’s New Clothes, the way Aussie critics have reviewed it. I’m with the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. Anyone else?

  3. C’mon Don, you enjoy slagging off bad movies too. You have to accept that some people find movies with genre and tone shifts jarring, just like some people are put off by non-linear storytelling or Tarantinoesque violence. I don’t know how The Dressmaker is going to be marketed in the US. It’s not funny enough to stand up as a comedy, and it’s not consistent enough to be a solid revenge story. I notice these sort of movies fare poorly at the US box office.

  4. Is this meant to be a news story, or an opinion piece? And by the way, hammering the British critics for being male, how do you explain that my wife felt exactly the same about the film? For the record, and it may surprise you to know, she’s an Australian woman.

  5. The film looks like complete garbage, so I won’t go and pay twenty dollars to see it in cinema. Will wait for VOD. But if people want to review it honestly, fair play to them. Peter Bradshaw is rarely wide of the mark for instance and I recall many canning it internationally until released here. This whole culture we have in this country of rating a film based on box office is pathetic, misguided and nothing to do with whether the work is any good or not. If you look at all the top box office performers in Australia over the years rarely if ever in fact are they critically acclaimed works of art. Often they are poorly made, just highly marketed with some fiscal weight behind them.

  6. I recall some critic in the US listing the film as a ‘loser’ at Toronto. If it were universally praised, it would have been snapped up immediately by an American distributor. As of today, no US deals have been made (though the film’s producers claim a deal is imminent… that was last week).

  7. It is excellent to see any film getting $14m at the box office – that is a rolled gold hit. The audience is always right, however unpalatable that may sometimes be.

    I agree with the negative sentiment of the UK reviews. It is a very uneven film. Part cornball comedy, part over the top revenge story with a most unconvincing love story between two people who are supposed to have grown up together as children… but are clearly 15 years distant in age. That is the weirdest bit of casting in living memory.

    Kate Winslet looked like she was determinedly not buying into the cornball comedy caper and 2/3 of the way through the movie, Judy Davis decided to join her. Odd.

    However, the craft of Don McAlpine and Roger Ford added a sumptuousness to the film that would have helped bring an audience.

  8. Word of mouth continues to drive the box office because audiences genuinely love this film. The cynics can bark all they want but that won’t keep them away.

    Neil

  9. A frienf of mine and i went to see this a few days after it was released. The theatre was full for the screening. I had not read the book and had no preconcieved ideas abiut . My friend and i loved it, and so did the audiemce that i was part. I did not hear any complaints from the snatches of conversations as i left. I will admit i found the Hemsworth character a bit young for Winslet, but hey, this is the movies so we can all suspend reality. I agree with Neil about the critics, bark all they want, i lovedThe Dressmaker and will be seeing it again and eventually buying the Dvd. Marios Boyce’costumes were magnificent.

  10. Critics? The odd thing about critics is that they have a job to do and a career to drive and are always bound to upset someone.

    Good critics must use three eyes, the two needed to be generally unbiased, and the inner eye that analyses the inner workings of the theatrical piece, whatever it may be. The question here is: Which of the critics were were being “unfair,” the British or the Australians?

    Question: What did the British critics stand to gain by bashing the film? What did the Australian critics stand to gain by inflating its qualities?

    I stand to gain nothing either way, and arguably, as an Australian theatre industry worker, I stand to lose by damning The Dressmaker. I won’t damn it, but I must say that the film is no surprise to me. It contains all the reliably out of place, and often repeated problems and faults, that I have come to expect from Australian theatrical films.

    The Dressmaker, and Australian films generally send, upon release, a repetitive message to the world; that we have around 50 actors in Australia, film/TV critics who are mainly barrackers, no script writers of note, a desperate need to be appreciated and even loved by the outside world, a clutch of directors who are afraid of emotional truth, and occasionally, even emotion, a deep appreciation for the dilettante and the obvious, a cultural cringe, particularly about our past, and an enviable and simply magnificent collection of film crews and technical film makers.

    Don’t damn the British film critics, they got it about right, but perhaps not with understanding.

  11. A friend and myself saw the movie and loved it. I’m so sick of the American movies about violence so this was a lovely treat. I happen to like Kate Winslet and Judy Davis and find their acting is wonderful. My friend and I had no trouble keeping up with the changes from comedy to tragedy, isn’t life so changeable? Why does it have to be all comedy or all drama? I remember many years ago going along to see a play that critics reviewed badly, and I hesitated about going, but really enjoyed the play and the actress who was badly criticised. So, boo to the critics I say. I’m opinionated too.

  12. All I can say is WHY ?Why was it made , &why did Kate Winslet agree to be in it. I truly regret the money I payed to see it.It must rate as one of the worst films this centuary I utterly agree with Richard Moss.

  13. hmm, meanwhile Australian critics continue to be scathing and bitchy about Jeff fenechs engaging witty housos. i remember the mallee in the Sixties, this movie is a bit of a bitter inner city lynch job. All the left language spin and rhetoric cant get English and American bums on seats but,

  14. Why did you make this movie Kate? Surely you were coaxed into giving it a chance to be seen on an international stage…which is now out of town…All the Aussie establishment got bit parts hoping their careers would be ala Jackie Weavers…sorry guys…stick with the local soapies. The music with the closing credits was the movie highlight.

  15. I just watched the Dressmaker and found it visually stunning, beautifully acted and having a wonderful cast of characters that weave a story that explores many moods and genres.

    I seem to have enjoyed all aspects of the movie that many pf the critics in this forum hated. The Dressmaker is not formulatic and tells a story that avoids the pitfalls of writers and movie producers who play it safe and present the same old spoon fed cliches. Congratulations to Kate Winslet and the excellent supporting cast for bringing this tale to the screen – a thoroughlu unique and different movie.

  16. I find it astonishing that so many people are unable to cope with mixed genres. They’re missing just about anything made (or written) after 1975. Yes, The Dressmaker did abound in grotesques; it also presented us with Winslet and Hemsworth— both stunningly beautiful. It was hilariously funny and, if you think a moment, tragically human in the sections dealing with Tilly’s childhood and the death of her lover. While I agree that everyone has the right to an opinion, I have the right to be irritated by those who believe that the cast of this film is packed with second rate actors who would have gasped breathless words of gratitude to be offered a part. Do you include internationally acclaimed actors like Judy Davis and Hugo Weaving? Brilliant younger ones like Sarah Snook and Liam Hemsworth? Stalwarts of Australian acting like Barry Otto and Julia Blake?

  17. This is overwrought, overacted and, sadly, over here. The biggest mess I’ve seen on screen in 50 years. Caricatures instead of characters, nudging and relentless music, performances so grotesque it’s like a Punch and Judy show, a script that’s filled with ludicrous improbabilities. I wish I hadn’t sat through it.

  18. I looked at the dvd last night. I was hopi g for something good as thd list of actors names seemed promising. I dont know what made me endure it to thr end. It was like a childrens pantomime. In one word:Ghastly.i was embarrassed for the actors. Anyone readingbthe script should have run off as fast as they could. The chemist careening around with a right angled crooked spine muttering and falling into a river was worthy of a day time kiddie show.

  19. It’s not so much that the mixed genre’s are a problem generally, its just that they felt so poorly handled in this film. My wife and I both felt (as Australian viewers) that the author (not that I have read the book and I’m assuming that the book ends much as the film does)had 2 endings in mind and simply couldn’t decide which one to go with. I compared it to the Aftermath of the Red Dwarf novels. The writing team split after book 2 and each wrote a separate book 3. Each was markedly different in tone and plot and even genre. The dressmaker does the same “oh, shall she have a happy ever after moment?” – yes “or should I rip that away form her too “yes, I will” or should justice be served and all the bad guys get killed brutally?” “bung that I too” oh and while we are at it let’s chuck in a macbeth reference – done too.

    none of these elements we badly done, they just fit together very poorly. and For the record I also felt the age difference between the romantic leads was terrible, but only due to their supposedly having grown up together. Liam’s character’s brother also was not enough older than him (I felt) to have been witness to anything. I had no issue with the younger man falling for the sophisticated and not-unattractive older woman. It was kind of nice to see a guy get the ridiculously sexist and demeaning treatment women have been suffering in films where they are paired up with grotty older men and have no value other than as a sex object. Bravo to the Hemsworth brothers for being willing to be cast in those roles.

    also that game was not “rugger”, and anyone who watched it with rugby in mind would have thought – that’s not how you play rugby.

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