#SheReviews Ladies In Black

September 21, 2018

One of my favourite plays for 2017 was Queensland Theatre’s ‘Ladies In Black’ based on Madeleine St John’s classic novel ‘The Women In Black’. The costumes, the era, the story and the colourful characters all spoke to me and had me laughing, crying and everything in between. So I was beside myself when I heard a movie version was being made and especially when I found out it was being made here in Australia, with Australian talent and the legendary Bruce Beresford as director. I was lucky enough to be invited by SheSociety and the lovely folk at Dendy for a Dendy Dames preview screening of this much anticipated film. I absolutely loved it.

The Cast

The ensemble cast is a veritable who’s who of Australian film and television with greats such as the talented Logie Hall of Famer-Noni Hazelhurst, Puberty Blues- Susie Porter, Packed To The Rafters alumni Ryan Corr and Luke Pegler, the luminous Rachael Taylor (Transformers, Cedar Boys), Kenny’s -Shane Jacobsen and QUT trained Alison McGirr (Home and Away and Vikings). Newcomer 17 year old Angourie Rice (These Final Hours) plays the lead role of Leslie/Lisa to perfection.

Rounding out the cast are veterans of feature films- the British -Julia Ormond  (Legends of the Fall, First Knight), American–Australian actor Nicholas Hammond who is still best known for his role as Friedrich Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and as Spider-Man in the television series of the same name and Swiss actor, Vincent Perez star of cult film Queen of the Damned. What fun it must have been making this movie with such a wonderful cast!

The Story

Ladies in Black, the movie, is a comedy/ drama which is based on the 1950’s coming- of age novel. It tells the story of a clever young girl who takes a summer job in Sydney department store called- Goodes. Here she is transformed, as a whole new Australia opens up for her, one she could not have imagined in her suburban home.

She meets the glamorous Slovenian Magda, head of the ladies couture dress department. Magda takes Lisa under her wing and teaches her about style and culture. There is Fay the ice, cool beauty who despite appearances is searching for something more. We meet the edgy and stoic Patty trying to make sense of a traditional ‘50’s marriage and her wary, silent and a little clueless husband, Frank. The whole floor is overseen by the watchful and omnipresent stiff upper- lipped Miss Cartwright and Mr Ryder.

The film is a snapshot of 50’s Australia, when trams rolled through Sydney, salami was a foreign food -not something on an everyday pizza, ladies dressed up and men wore hats. Being a child of the  ‘60’s, with one immigrant parent and several aunties from exotic locales, many of the topics addressed – immigration, the education of women, the stay at home mum, the search for identity and the changing face of Australia were part of my formative years. I loved this look into the past and could nod and cry along. I defy you to not be moved by Miss Cartwright’s leaving speech for Lisa.

The Costumes

The costumes deserve an article all of their own. It was clear to me from the outset that a lot of love, research and sense of character had gone into the costumes. Some were based on the simple vintage Dior silhouettes that I love and the colours used perfectly reflected each character and their mood. Standouts for me were Magda’s cinched waist suits and Fay’s cool figure enhancing silhouettes.

Patty’s mood was perfectly reflected in the soft green, browns and greys of her clothes. Lisa’s change from schoolgirl to sophisticated school leaver were reflected by degrees in her clothes until finally a confident young woman emerged. Lisa’s coveted Lisette dress was perfect for her age, style and the time.

I feel that it is a disservice to the movie to dismiss it as a woman’s movie. By all means have a night out with the girls or take your Mum for a great day out , but also go along on date night and share it with the males in your life. It is a movie with meaning for all and a reflection of Australian urban life in the 1950’s.

Shane Jacobsen reminds me of my own father – hardworking, a mad keen punter, coming to terms with his daughter growing up, perplexed by an educated daughter and her choices in life. His role was one of my favourite characters. Magda and her husband reflect equality and a balanced, loving relationship and Ryan Corr was a revelation as Hungarian Rudi. He has come such a long way since I first watched him in ‘Packed to the Rafters’.

One of the best Australian films for years, with a sensational ensemble cast, ‘Ladies In Black’ will stay with you and remind you of our Australian heritage long after the credits have rolled. This cinematically stunning film, filled with heart, is in cinemas now.

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