British critics unfair to The Dressmaker

22 November, 2015 by Don Groves

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.”