Thanks to Sony Pictures Releasing we got to see Ladies in Black before its cinematic release. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go and see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!
Madeleine St. John‘s same-titled novel, set in 1950s Australia, has been adapted for the screen by Sue Milliken and Bruce Beresford (the latter also director), a few years after Ladies in Black’s success as a musical by Tim Finn. It centres around the aptly named Goode’s Store in Sydney’s CBD, where women shop for genteel items, namely dresses. Speaking of a bygone era, when debutantes carefully chose frocks to impress or enter into social circles, Goode’s is overseen by the precise – at times, threatening- Miss Cartwright, played by iconic Noni Hazlehurst.
Bibliophile Lisa (Angourie Rice) is a new staff addition to the store and her innocence and intelligence is noted by haute couture specialist, Magda (Julia Ormond) who introduces her to Stefan (Vincent Perez), the fellow “new continental” husband , and their European friends who cook, eat and discuss literature and everything in between. This is starkly contrasted with Lisa’s household, where mum (Susie Porter) dishes up meat ‘n’ three veg’ for dad (Shane Jacobson) who loves things like the pub and seeing his horse win on the telly.
Beresford intersperses historical footage of beach and city scenes with what must be some CGI – the trams on George St, in particular – to evoke a vibrant, bustling Sydney that relates to the film’s characters. Lisa, with her pursuit to study at university; Magda, to open her own high-end fashion store in Double Bay; Rudi (Ryan Corr), to find an Australian girlfriend to share his European passions with and Fay (Rachael Taylor), to meet a man that wants more than just her body.
Ladies in Black , despite its tender and heartwarming moments, is not without darkness. Miss Cartwright attends to her elderly mother at Christmas lunch, who is only physically present, at a large dining table forlornly set for two. Magda, Stefan and Rudi each recall their grim periods spent at refugee camp. But if anything, the film and its protagonists inspire hope in a future filled with possibilities. Lisa’s fair-dinkum father drinking red wine and identifying olives correctly is one of many scenes that forecast a nouveau Australia where girls have a tertiary education and men cook – mon dieu!
This is a rare movie that you can take an elderly relative to, without offence taken by nudity or swearing, and numerous nostalgic moments for them to reminisce about. It presents an Australia that, Rudi observes, is blue skies ahead; any darkness is drenched with sunshine that hides everything but itself.