FROM the first shot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a beautiful summer’s day in 1959, Ladies in Black is quintessentially Australian.
Director Bruce Beresford’s latest film, based on the novel The Women in Black by Madeleine St John, follows four women working over Christmas in the department store Goode’s, where the dress code for the employees is black.
There is Lisa (Angourie Rice), just about to receive her final school results determining whether she can go to university, Fay (Rachael Taylor) who is tired of dating coarse Australian men, Patty (Alison McGirr) who wants more from her one-syllable husband, and glamorous Magda (Julia Ormond), a European immigrant who dreams of opening her own fashionable gown shop.
The film skilfully combines the glamour and style of the 1950s, through stunning costumes and period music, with the real-life struggles women of the era faced, having very few options outside of marriage and often being barred from higher education due to pressure from family and lack of funds.
Sydney is captured in suburban homes, bustling city streets and with many sweeping shots of the harbour, cleverly angled away from anything modern.
Several “strewths”, “bloody hells” and jokes regarding the Sydney vs Melbourne rivalry make the film authentically Australian without devolving into cliche.
Where Ladies in Black becomes particularly relevant is through the stories of the European migrants who have experienced violence and displacement as a result of World War II.
Meanwhile the white Australians call them reffos and treat them like they don’t belong, despite, as Lisa points out, every one of their families having arrived from somewhere else at some point.
However the migrants, although despairing at Australians’ lack of culture, praise their new home for its beauty and its opportunities.
There are weaker aspects to the film. Shane Jacobson as the old-fashioned father of Lisa, who is against her going to university, feels more like a caricature than a real person.
But it is rare for Australian films to make it to mainstream cinema screens and rarer still in the form of an entertaining, funny, sparkling movie like Ladies in Black.
Ladies in Black (PG)
Directed by: Bruce Beresford
Starring: Angourie Rice, Rachael Taylor, Julia Ormond
Review by: Lucy Rutherford
In cinemas now