In a plentiful year for Australian film, Ladies in Black is the latest local story to grace our screens. Directed by iconic storyteller Bruce Beresford, Ladies in Black has the makings of the next Australian classic.
Adapted from a book by Madeline St John (and subsequent successful musical, with music by Tim Finn), the story is set in 1959, in the upmarket Goodes department store. Teenager Lesley – or Lisa, as she prefers (played by up and comer Angourie Rice) – takes a job over the busy Christmas period while she finishes her final year of school. She desperately wants to study further at university, but traditional old dad (Shane Jacobsen) won’t hear of it.
Working at Goodes, Lisa’s eyes are opened to the world of possibility. She is enveloped in the comradeship of her fellow sales assistants Fay (Rachel Taylor), Patty (Alison McGirr) and the worldly Magda (Julia Ormond), who runs the Model Dresses department. Lisa quickly earns her stripes as a smart and efficient worker. Before long Magda has set about transforming Lisa from the schoolgirl she is, into a young woman on the cusp of greater things.
The film is full of delightful performances from a who’s-who of Australian cinema, further including Susie Porter, Ryan Corr and Noni Hazelhurst. As you’d expect for a film about fashion, the costuming is detailed and authentic; as are the period homes and apartments. Much of the action takes place in the store, which is decked out in twee fifties style right down to the pebble-print linoleum staircases and glass cabinet counters.
The story is warm and focuses more on the characters than any major plot. Each woman has their personal challenge to overcome; while threads of multiculturalism, women’s liberation, family relationships and love are all deftly woven through.
Having been the subject of two adaptations, the original book Women in Black is surely sturdy reading material. I look forward to seeking it out, to see the differences. Certainly the two-plus hour stage play has been condensed yet again into the film, though some of this efficiency is achieved through the removal of the songs present in the stage version.
Ladies in Black is perfect light film fare, and also appropriate for tween audiences. Take your mum, your bestie and your daughter. And reminisce about the days before fast food outlets were your teenage first job; and you shopped online 90% of the time.