Adapted from the novel Ladies in Black by Madeleine St John, this heart-warming yet awkwardly racist film is about a group of women working at a department store in Sydney Australia, 1959. It’s a humorous look at a woman’s place not only at work but also in the home, all the while adapting to this new wave of immigrants to Australia and how the simple folk of Australia slowly adapt and welcome the changes.
Lisa is the latest employee for the women’s fashion department at Goode’s as a lady in black. She is awaiting the results from her final high school examinations and working the summer for some extra cash before she ventures off to University, that’s if her father lets her.
High class and full of sass, refugee and Department Manager Magda takes a liking to Lisa and often uses her to help in her busy high-end fashion department. Here the two build a budding friendship as Lisa embraces her Slovenian background.
In her time at Goode’s Lisa makes a number of friends, one of which is Fay who Magda decides would be a perfect companion for her fellow refugee Rudi.
As the summer comes to an end and the store marks down its final dresses left over from the festive season, Lisa finds herself a great deal more independent and ready to take on the world. All with the help from the ladies in black.
The trouble with Ladies in Black is it feels drawn out. This is a classic case of the novel to screen adaptation where Director and writer Bruce Beresford and writer Sue Milliken struggle on what to include and what to eliminate in the screenplay. But further Beresford tended to drag out a number of scenes that just didn’t quite hold the emotion anticipated.
Ladies in Black has a feeling similar to that of the television series Mr Selfridge and Are You Being Served. A very different time in retail yet it seems the customers act a great deal the same no matter what era.
Playing Lisa is Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spider-man: Homecoming, Jasper Jones) who offers complete and utter innocence all the while knowing exactly what she wants and how she will get it.
It’s an Australian star-studded cast with the likes of Rachael Taylor, Noni Hazlehurst, Susie Porter, Shane Jacobson and Ryan Corr. There’s also Julia Ormond and Vincent Perez providing a wonderful European couple trying to understand a bizarre country, Australia.
Navigating through the complicated game of love and relationships. Understanding the never-ending demands of retail. The stress of trying to find yourself in an otherwise male dominated world. Ladies in Black is a humorous and sometimes sad look at the lives of women in the late 50s and early 60s in Australia. A time when ladies married and had children then made sure there was a meal on the table when their husbands came home.
What Ladies in Black tries to do without changing the course of history is show that women can be independent and strong and all the things they want to be. It also shows a very complicated story to a country rather oblivious to its own racism. As it is still the case today “casual racism” and using humour to blend over which was and still very much is a country struggling to find its identity but welcoming of a great number of different cultures.
Overall, Ladies in Black has a strong comedic undertow all the while showing how far Australia has come as a welcoming and understanding society. But while you might be mesmerised by this time and place, it does tend to draw out and pull away from what started as a great paced film.
Review by Jay Cook
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