1951. Tilly Dunnage (KATE WINSLET), a beautiful, talented misfit, who’s been working as a dressmaker in France for the great haute couture designers, returns home to Dungatar, a one-horse town deep in the wheat belt of south-east Australia. After 20 years away, Tilly has been driven back by a recent tragedy, to do two things — look after her ailing, eccentric mother Molly (JUDY DAVIS), and right the wrongs of the past that continue to haunt her. Tilly Dunnage has revenge in her heart.
In Dungatar, everybody knows everybody and they all have a secret. Cabin-crazed, bitter, grasping and small-minded, the town folk maintain a precarious equilibrium as they know that their secrets are not safe.
When Tilly arrives back, the balance starts to shift. Signs of trouble come in the form of the extravagant fabrics, which start arriving from France, delivered to Dungatar in exotic tea chests.
The local constabulary, in the form of Sergeant Farrat (HUGO WEAVING), is the first to develop a special, breathless interest in Tilly’s magical way with thread and silk. He becomes something of a buffer between Tilly and the town’s people, who haven’t forgotten the tragedy they believe Tilly caused as a child–tearing the town apart and leading to her exile.
Tilly feels instinctively that she was wronged, but she also feels cursed and can’t clearly remember what happened. The Dungatarians are drawn in by Tilly’s bewitching skills of transformation, and one by one, she extracts from them the information necessary to piece the truth together. The extraordinary gowns she creates become her means for revenge against those who did her wrong. There’ll be a price for looking this good.
The stakes are raised when Councillor Evan Pettyman (SHANE BOURNE), who virulently hates Tilly and Molly, employs the buttoned-up Una Pleasance (SACHA HORLER), a rival dressmaker from Melbourne, to compete with Tilly and bring her down.
Along the way Tilly bares her heart and against her better judgement falls in love with local football hero, Teddy McSwiney (LIAM HEMSWORTH). Most importantly, she forms an initially volatile but finally tender reconciliation with her mother Molly.
In a no-holds-barred showdown between Tilly’s and Una’s creations, it becomes clear that the transformation of the residents of Dungatar has only exaggerated their many flaws, and revealed just how ugly and black their hearts are. Their obsession with Tilly’s couture designs will be their ultimate unravelling, and Tilly’s final triumph.
Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth
1 x 119 mins