Picks and Pans Review: The Dressmaker

UPDATED 01/16/1989 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/16/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

The setting is Liverpool, circa 1944. The war and rationing have enforced a spartan life-style on a household of two sisters. The elder, played by Joan Plowright, is a dressmaker who never married. The younger sister, acted by Billie Whitelaw, is a flirtatious widow who works in a munitions factory. This house of women also includes a sullen 17-year-old niece (Jane Horrocks), who moved in after her mother's death. When Horrocks falls for a soldier from Mississippi (Tim Ransom), you might think you're in for one of those dull domestic dramas that have all the excitement of a kitchen sink. No such thing. In adapting Beryl Brainbridge's 1973 novel, screenwriter John McGrath and director Jim (The Jewel in the Crown) O'Brien have succeeded in capturing the sexual repression and murderous rage festering beneath the facade of middle-class respectability. Plowright, a superb stage actress (and Lady Laurence Olivier in private life), locates the chilling menace in a character her niece mistakes for being merely overly protective. Whitelaw encourages her niece's relationship with the soldier, but even her motives are suspect in a film that proves most telling in its looks and silences. This is superior filmmaking. Plowright and White-law, two world-class actresses in top form, make The Dressmaker an occasion not to be missed. (PG-13)

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