Ladies in Black – Movie Review

September 17, 2018 By Southpoint Tuggeranong

It’s Sydney, 1959. Clad in well-fitting black dresses, with careful hair and makeup, the ladies at prestigious department store, Goode’s, are preparing for the Christmas rush. Miss Cartwright (Noni Hazlehurst), a fierce matronly woman in her fifties, prowls the frocks floor. She introduces the new temporary sales assistant, shy and bookish teenager Lisa (Angourie Rice), to the less-than-impressed ladies in black, Fay (Rachael Taylor) and Patty (Alison McGirr).

Based on the best-selling novel by Madeleine St John, Ladies in Black is a slice of time, when the impact of European migration and the rise of women’s liberation are set to change Australia forever. These are issues that even 60 years on are still timely.

There’s no dramatic plot; this isn’t a ground-breaking film. It’s a snapshot into the daily lives of several ordinary women. Lisa is awaiting her exam results, anxiously navigating her loving but stubborn father (Shane Jacobson) who is of the opinion that no daughter of his will be attending university. Fay longs for romance and is frustrated with the average Aussie bloke - “only after one thing”. Patty wishes to start a family but her husband is distant and unaffectionate.

Across the frocks floor, the vivacious Magda (Julia Ormond) guards the Model Gowns section of the store: eye-watering expensive gowns for only the wealthiest women of Sydney’s smartest suburbs. A post-war refugee from Slovenia, Magda takes Lisa under her wing, assisting in her transformation from brainy and bookish to glamorous and cultured.

Ormond steals the spotlight with her no-nonsense commentary on Australian life - not that she always understands it. Taylor is enchanting, Rice is endearing, and both Jacobson and Hazlehurst offer quiet but effective supporting performances. The film’s strengths lie in the substance of the characters that drive the story.

Director Bruce Beresford, the man behind great Aussie films like Puberty Blues, Driving Miss Daisy, and Mao’s Last Dancer, delivers Ladies in Black as an unassuming window to modern-day society. It’s steadily entertaining; it’s slow but it’s sure of itself. Mostly there’s a sense of nostalgia; if this film doesn’t resonate with you, it will resonate with your mother

- Laura White    

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