Ladies in Black
Director: Bruce Beresford
Based on the novel ‘The Women in Black’ by Madeleine St John
It is the Sydney summer of 1959, and a sweet young bookworm ‘Leslie’ (Angourie Rice) is on the cusp of women-hood. But Leslie – who later becomes Lisa and no, this is not a movie about gender transition, more one about growing – is not the only thing changing in Bruce Beresford’s long anticipated film. Australia is experiencing a wave of European migration while women are beginning to wonder about their role in society. When our heroine Leslie, introduces herself as Lisa to her black-clad work colleagues and manager at the prestigious department store Goodes, hoping that her exam results will give her entry to university, Australia is enjoying a sustained economic boom and social changes are happening not just in Lisa’s world, but in the entire developed world.
Now, it is obvious to any Australian of a certain age that Goode’s is based on our own beloved David Jones and Beresford quite obviously had a ball reconstructing what both Sydney and the department store must have been. We enjoy aged shots of Sydney, fabulous beach-side rushes or (far slimmer) men and women in well-cut cossies and even a Christmas window display complete with spellbound littlies pushing their noses to the glass to catch the magic.
At this point the movie has already won its ‘charming’ credentials as far as I am concerned but Beresford manages to subtly show how an external influence (those ‘refos’) injected a sophistication and knowledge that perfectly complimented what was very frequently the raw charm of Australians. It also shows that good and loving fathers could be swayed about allowing their smart young daughters to go to university (there signatures were apparently necessary on the paper-work), even though they were concerned about the radical ideas – and boys – their little girls might meet there.
You will enjoy ‘Ladies in Black’, particularly if you have an affection for Australia’s wonderful old department stores. Beresford brings a period alive.
Good for a rainy afternoon or a trip down memory lane.