“The Dressmaker” is about the intrusion of sexuality into a household built on a tacit, but finally murderous rejection of all sex. Much of the family’s careful routine is based on lies, hypocrisy, role-playing. Margo inwardly blames Nellie for the death of her World War I soldier-husband and the loss of potential suitors. Nellie views sexuality with fascinated distaste, while, ironically, she earns her living making dresses for local girls to catch their beaux. Rita, caught between them, is simultaneously pulled toward devious sensuality by Margo, and self-flagellating chastity by Nellie.
Playwright John McGrath, who adapted the novel, has created a shrewdly anti-sentimental family portrait. It’s all the more effective, because, for the first half of “The Dressmaker,” you may suspect it will be sentimental: that it’s about long-suffering Nellie’s old-fashioned devotion, the good heart that beats under Margo’s bursting decolletage, and about poor sweet Rita, who will emerge sadder but wiser, yet still cherishing her handsome Yank memories.
The Dressmaker is a 1988 British drama film directed by Jim O’Brien and starring Joan Plowright, Billie Whitelaw and Pete Postlethwaite. Set during the Second World War in England, the story concerns a claustrophobic relationship between two middle-aged sisters and their fragile 17-year-old niece. It is an adaptation of the novel The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge.
The Dressmaker (1988)
Directed by: Jim O’Brien
Starring: Joan Plowright, Billie Whitelaw, Pete Postlethwaite, Jane Horrocks, Tim Ransom, Pippa Hinchley, Rosemary Martin, Tony Haygarth, Lorraine Ashbourne
Screenplay by: John McGrath
Production Design by: Caroline Amies
Cinematography by: Michael Coulter
Film Editing by: William Diver
Costume Design by: Judy Moorcroft
Art Direction by: Chris Townsend
Music by: George Fenton
Distributed by: Euro American Pictures
Release Date: October 16, 1988