Rollover Information
About the Series Schedule The Archive Learning Resources The American Collection Home Search Shop
Programs The Archive Database The Poster Gallery Awards + Nominations Broadcast Schedule Feature Library  Masterpiece Theatre Home The Archive Archive

The Archive Database [imagemap with 4 links]

previous program program next program

Program Title
The Dressmaker

Based On
The novel by Beryl Bainbridge

Adapted By
John McGrath

Number of Episodes:

Set in 1944, "The Dressmaker" is the story of a Liverpool family of women torn apart when the youngest becomes infatuated with a handsome American soldier. Rita, a shy seventeen year-old who lives with her two aunts, meets Wesley, a soldier from Mississippi, and they begin a romance. Her aunt Margo encourages Rita thinking Wesley might offer her the happiness that she herself has been denied, but Aunt Nellie looks upon Wesley as an intruder and unfit for Rita. As the relationship between the two young people unravels, the women are forced to confront their darkest fears.

Original broadcast date

Cast Characters
Joan Plowright Nellie
Billie Whitelaw Margo
Jane Horrocks Rita
Pete Postlethwaite Jack
Tim Ransom Wesley
Rosemary Martin Mrs. Manders
Pippa Hinchley Val
Tony Haygarth Mr. Manders
Bert Parnaby Mr. Barnes
Margi Clarke Shopwoman
Sam Douglas Cpl. Zawadski
Michael James-Reed Chuck

Executive Producer: John McGrath
Producer: Ronald Shedlo
Director: Tim O'Brien

The Dressmaker/Episode 1/Intro by Alistair Cooke

Good evening, I'm Alistair Cooke.

Tonight, for the first time on Masterpiece Theatre, we present the first television showing of a feature film. It's ninety minutes long and it's called The Dressmaker, with Joan Plowright and Billie Whitelaw.

It's a story about Liverpool towards the end of the Second World War in 1944. Liverpool is a great North Country seaport that looks out on the Irish Sea, and it's a city so ancient that no tourist should go there expecting to find a single relic of the Norman Conquest, when the Norsemen settled there in the eighth century. For the past eight hundred years, Liverpool has been the second seaport of England, but all its intervening antiquities--even of the eighteenth century--were more or less obliterated by the city's enormous industrial growth throughout Victorian times. Miles and miles of wharves and berths and warehouses and factories sprung up, as did more miles of brick houses and slums that housed the huge working population that fueled the prosperity of this city in Victorian times and on into our own times. Indeed, until twenty-odd years ago a tourist was no more likely to visit Liverpool than, say, Akron, Ohio. That is, until it was discovered that Liverpool was the birthplace of The Beatles, and since then troops of devout young Americans have gone there to ferret out the mean streets and the cafe where those minstrels first insisted they wanted to hold your hand.

In fact, a travel agent told me a few years ago that Liverpool was climbing up on the list of English tourist Meccas, after the Tower of London, Oxford, Stratford-on-Avon, and 165 Eaton Place where the Bellamys of Upstairs/Downstairs were supposed to live.

Now Liverpool is the essence of Lancashire life--its accent, its ways of living, its philosophy--which I would describe as a kind of cheerful pessimism. I was born in Lancashire, not very far from Liverpool, and I remember as a boy a picnic was always arranged on the confident understanding that it would be washed out by the usual rains. And if there was a cloudless day, which was very rare, somebody would always say, Ay, but we're going to have to pay for it. The Lancashire people expected very little here below and usually got it.

And for once here the actors and actresses handle the local dialect with ease for the simple reason that the principles, including the author and director, were Lancashire born, except Joan Plowright who plays the grim, elder sister. She was born in a village in neighboring Yorkshire, but she was able to temper what we Lancastrians regard as the ruder speech of Yorkshire in the interests of speaking Lancashire. Billie Whitelaw, who plays the younger sister, was as a girl evacuated from bombed out Coventry to Liverpool, just in time for the Nazis' ferocious bombing of the city. Obviously, Liverpool as a great seaport was a prime target for Nazi aerial bombing and during the Battle of Britain--a series of devastating raids--130,000 houses in the center of the city were either totally destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

But now we're in 1944, and the Luftwaffe--the aerial strength of the Nazis--has been broken. There are very few raids, but the nightly blackouts and the long lines for food continue. In the midst of this we're about to be introduced to two middle-aged sisters and the niece they have raised since her mother died, leaving her father, the local butcher, to visit her once a week. This whole story is about the effect a very exotic visitor--a young soldier from Mississippi–has on these characters.

Now, part one, The Dressmaker.

previous program program next program

The Archive Database | Program History | Poster Gallery | Awards

Home | About The Series | The American Collection | The Archive
Schedule & Season | Feature Library | eNewsletter | Book Club
Learning Resources | Forum | Search | Shop | Feedback

WGBH Logo PBS logo


Masterpiece is sponsored by: