About The Production
When The Dressmaker was published in the year 2000, producer SUE MASLIN saw the
novel and recognized the name of the author, ROSALIE HAM.
"I went to school with a Rosalie Ham - it turned out it was one in the same,"
Sue Maslin explains. "We both grew up in a little country town called Jerilderie,
in the southern Riverina area of NSW [Australia], and we both were at boarding
school in Melbourne which meant from a very early age catching a bus that took
five and a half hours to travel up to Jerilderie and drop us off in the middle
of the night to be picked up by our parents."
Sue Maslin read and loved the book because it encapsulated, without being
nostalgic or sentimental, something raw and honest and funny and tragic about
what it's like to grow up in a little country town - "the kind of place where
everybody knows everyone else's business and you can tolerate the worst evil and
the greatest of excesses amongst each other just as long as you are not an
The Dressmaker was Rosalie Ham's first novel.
Rosalie Ham says: "I went to a writing course and they said 'you're going to
write a novel, a practice novel, you probably won't get this novel published
because people don't often get their first novel published'. And I thought,
fine, well I'll just put everything in. 'Everything' ended up being all the big
themes - death, marriage, betrayal."
And so Tilly Dunnage, her mother Molly and the fictional town of Dungatar were
The character of Tilly seems drawn, at least in part, from Rosalie's mother. "My
mother was one of the dressmakers in Jerilderie. She happened to be divorced,
and so there was a certain amount of scandal that was attached to that. She had
to make a living as a seamstress. And I saw the difference in her role as the
seamstress as opposed to the other ladies who were in the hierarchy of the town
that wanted beautiful frocks made by her.
Having someone like Tilly return to the town as an inferior person but actually
impossibly beautiful and superior, juxtaposed against the people of the town,
that's the point I wanted to make."
Sue Maslin continues: "I fell in love with this idea of going back to your
village after many years away and being the proverbial stone that's dropped into
the pond that creates the ripples going out - It captured something that I
Sue's securing of the option for the film rights would prove a little more
Sue says: "I got in touch with Rosalie because I was dying to see if there was
some way that I could get rights, but sadly they'd already been assigned to
another producer. We met up anyway and started to get to know each other again.
We never discussed the making of the book into the film at that point because it
was with another producer but we started playing golf."
"We're both very bad golfers, but there's nothing better than being on a golf
course with a novelist talking about life, death and the universe. Then one day
Rosalie turned around to me and said, the rights to The Dressmaker are coming
up, do you think you'd be interested, and it was like: 'YES!'"
Rosalie Ham had to face the natural fear of a novelist in 'handing over' their
work. Building up this renewed friendship and a mutual understanding with Sue
"When someone comes to you and says I want to turn your book into a film, it's
very exciting but then there's also some sort of fear that they're going to
change it." Explains Rosalie. "But, Sue understood exactly what it was about. I
had seen Road to Nhill (which Sue Maslin had produced in 1997), and loved that
film because it understood the relationships between characters in a small
community, and human nature. So once the option had expired and Sue told me what
she wanted to do, it was a fait accompli."
How did JOCELYN MOORHOUSE come into the story?
Sue explains: "I needed somebody that could capture that edge between comedy and
tragedy that's so essential to the story, and the person that I kept going back
to was Jocelyn Moorhouse, mostly on the basis of her beautiful, funny, sad film
Proof which was the film that really announced her as the extraordinary director
that she is. I flew to Los Angeles to meet Jocelyn and we had a really great
conversation about it but she was not ready to make the film at that time."
However, as with many elements of this story, persistence was key.
Jocelyn Moorhouse recalls: "I suggested other people she could go to, but Sue
wouldn't take no for answer. She kept coming back to me every couple of months -
'Are you still too busy?' - so I finally read the book, immediately fell in love
with it and was completely obsessed with turning it into a movie."
Jocelyn came on board, not only as director but as writer of the screenplay.
Rosalie Ham says: "I knew that once I signed the option, I had to let it go. It
was no longer my project. When Sue mentioned that she would like to get Jocelyn
to write the screenplay, I knew that Jocelyn would do a wonderful job because of
Proof. It's a film I've never forgotten."
The natural fears remained, but when Sue and Rosalie drove down to Warragul in
rural Victoria and met Jocelyn at her parents' home, Rosalie took a stack of
books that she'd referenced to write The Dressmaker. In that general enthusiasm
of looking through the books, and saying "Oh my goodness, look at that frock,"
or "That's wonderful and this is a twill, this is how they do this," Rosalie
knew that Jocelyn was just as enthusiastic and her ideas about the palette, the
designs, the story, were aligned with the spirit of the book.
"Once we drove away from Warragul on our way back to Melbourne," recalls Rosalie
"I remember thinking, 'It's all going to be fine, it will be good.'"
Sue Maslin says, "Rosalie's been our touchstone. Rosalie told Jocelyn her
thoughts about the characters, but they were offered, they were never forced or
pushed onto us at all, she was completely and utterly trusting of what we were
Jocelyn Moorhouse says there were many things that drew her to want to adapt the
book. "The story itself is really irresistible. I love revenge, the concept of
what drives a person to want to punish evil doers for what they did in the past.
I loved the character of Tilly, this incredibly strong woman who has a
mysterious quality and a tragic past. I also loved the mother-daughter
relationship and the possibility of bringing two extraordinary actresses
together to fire off each other. The love story is very beautiful, it's also
very dark and funny and it has an epic quality on the emotional level."
Jocelyn continues: "I wanted to create, in the script and onscreen, a western
feel, an archetypal, wasted, harsh landscape that these people have to survive
in, but at the same time there's a sense of humor to it all, and a sense of
style. It was my intention for it to have a fable quality - a mean little town
with a secret tries to ward off this avenging angel who descends on them."
As the writing began, Sue Maslin loved where Jocelyn took the script.
Sue says: "It was clear to me that if you just played it for the comedy, you
could very quickly descend into caricature. At all times, sitting under the
comedy, you have to have an equal measure of pathos, so that you appreciate what
is emotionally driving these characters at any given time. Jocelyn understood
all of that. The level of detail that's in the script is quite extraordinary, it
works on many, many levels."
Sue waited until the script was advanced before asking Rosalie to read it.
"The screenplay arrived and it sat on my coffee table" Rosalie recalls. "I
picked it up every now and again and flicked through it, to make sure that the
key scenes that I deeply wanted to remain in the screenplay were there.
"Sue Maslin phoned me after 24 hours and said, 'I feel sick, I haven't heard
from you. You've got to tell me what you think.' I said, 'It's wonderful, you go
ahead and make it!' but I didn't confess to Sue that I hadn't really read the
screenplay. It's not my thing - it's their project. I wanted to be surprised. I
was perfectly comfortable that they could do whatever they needed to do. I was
concerned about the big things remaining in, and once I knew they were still
there, I was perfectly happy."
It was clear to Sue Maslin from early on that this was not going to be a low
budget film. The setting and costumes were going to be period - not only that,
but couture period design. "That coupled with the fact that we were setting the
film in a country location with a cast of thousands, big ensemble pieces, this
was going to mean for an Australian budget, it was going to be on the higher
To access such a budget, casting was key. From the outset, Sue and Jocelyn
needed to start thinking about actresses with sufficient caliber and box office
clout, as well as the talent and extraordinary range to embody Tilly.
Jocelyn says: "I have loved and wanted to work with KATE WINSLET ever since I
saw her in Heavenly Creatures. When I was writing the screenplay, as I thought
about who could play Tilly, Kate was at the top of my list. It's her strength,
her beauty, her sensuality and also the fact that she can become such a complex
When Sue Maslin sent the script to Kate Winslet, Jocelyn remembers saying to
Sue: "What's the harm, she can only say no, or she might say yes."
Sue Maslin continues: "We didn't quite realize at the time how long these
processes take but we were very happy to wait and we didn't offer it to anyone
else in that time."
Jocelyn Moorhouse remembers: "We kept wondering if we should just give up, but I
couldn't get the idea of Kate Winslet playing Tilly out of my head, so I said
let's just keep waiting, and finally one day I received the most beautiful,
effusive email from Kate saying 'I love this character, I know how to play her,
I know her, yes I'm doing it.'"
Kate Winslet remembers: "When I first read the script I was very taken by how
different she was as a woman to anything I'd read for quite a while. There's a
strength in her that is unflinching and almost aggressive at times because she
has had to overcome so many challenges in order to stay strong and to be the
person that she is."
"She's an Australian and I always love playing characters that come from
somewhere else. I was taken with Tilly being surrounded by the Dungatarians, as
we ended up calling the locals during the shoot - her story is set against such
a hilarious backdrop, the irony in that really struck me. It's a risky, fun,
comedic, dark, sometimes strange story with a very strong mother-daughter
relationship at its heart ultimately. So, it was a combination of all of those
things really that grabbed me."
Like Sue Maslin, Rosalie Ham and Jocelyn Moorhouse, Oscar-nominated Director of
Photography DON MCALPINE also grew up in rural Australia. For Don, coming to
know the script and form the visual execution of the film was a process of
absorption that began years before the first day of shooting.
"I knew Jocelyn was writing the script two or three years ago before production
started," says Don McAlpine. "On most films I arrive three weeks before shooting
starts, but this wasn't the case. I enjoy the way she and [co-writer of the
film] P.J. Hogan (Jocelyn's
Home | Theaters | Video | TV
Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
© 2018 115®, All Rights Reserved.