AAP Entertainment

Power of a dress makes a film glow

By AAP Newswire

The magical power of the right clothes transforms an actress into a 1950s housewife, and that small-town housewife into a glamazon.

Visitors to the National Film and Sound Archives in Canberra will be able to get a close look at how that power is made after the costumes from The Dressmaker were donated to the collection.

Before they are stored, they are on display in an exhibition that celebrates the sumptuous designs and couture outfits created by Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson for the 2015 film.

Producer Sue Maslin says when a film is made, a whole world is created and audiences are invited in.

"To be able to put the costume artefacts together with the sewing machine, together with a few key props like the Dungatar sign, it just means now that collection is there for future generations to really understand the world that we created," she told AAP.

"Not just see it on screen but actually to be able to see those fabrics up close and to see the making."

In the film based on Rosalie Ham's novel, Kate Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage, who returns to her small, outback hometown after years in self-imposed exile in Europe.

She uses her couture design skills to bribe the town's women with beautiful clothes and winkle out the secrets of the past.

Ham says a kernel of the story came from childhood days spent in her mother's sewing room.

"The women coming in to my mother's little sewing room and getting what they wanted and walking out of that room a little taller, a little straighter and a little more proud, well if you're a fiction writer you just take the element and dramatise it," she told AAP.

She was an extra in parts of the film and says she loved arriving on set and "meeting all my characters, who all looked really familiar".

But the costumes were different.

"(That) caused me some consternation for about five seconds," Ham says.

"Until I saw what (Boyce) created and understood that she makes particular costumes for particular actors and they were meant to enhance what the film was about.

"I was perfectly happy. Plus, they're very beautiful costumes."

Actor Sacha Horler, who plays a rival seamstress brought in by some of the townswomen, says the incredible attention to detail with the costuming meant "three-quarters of your job is done for you".

The first scene she filmed was with Winslet - "Great. No pressure," she jokes - when her character sneaks into Tilly's workroom to snoop on her designs.

Horler was wearing a vintage lace shirt and part of the scene required her to get dressed very quickly.

"I remember thinking, God, I hope I can act today and also I hope I don't rip the costumes," she told reporters.

"Of course, five seconds in of acting, you just rip off a vintage button and Marion goes alright, stop for a second and on runs the seamstress ... Marion says you have to stop, it's an original. And you get sewn up and start again.

"I've never had that experience, it was quite extraordinary."

The Dressmaker exhibition is on display at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra until August 18.