Review / ‘Ladies In Black’ (PG) ****

BRUCE Beresford directs and wrote, in collaboration with Sue Milliken, this adaptation of a novel by Madeleine St John about the staff of the fashion department of a major department store of distinction (played by the building that originally housed Mark Foy’s).

Chick flick? No way. This is a meaty, lovingly-created portrait of 1959 Australia, set in Sydney. Structurally, it’s a bit bitty, hopping between locations and social environments, but that turns out to be its heart. Today we sing a quite lovely song that reminds us that whatever our origins, we are Australian. Pity then that the film has no Aboriginal content, which was yet to burgeon.

Lesley Miles (Angourie Rice) lives with her mother (Susie Porter) whose career is domesticity and her “Sydney Morning Herald” compositor father (Shane Jacobson) whose home life focuses on betting and beer and is determined that no child of his will go to university among all those commos and upper-class twits.

At Goode’s department store, Lesley is Lisa, a more appropriate name. Her ambition is to get a Commonwealth Scholarship.

One of her colleagues is Patty (Alison McGirr) whose husband (Trent Baines) doesn’t come home after work the day after Patty initiated a sexual event. This is perhaps the film’s most poignant dramatic line. Keep watching for what lies at its other end.

In the other major dramatic thread in a story with many dramatic threads is Hungarian immigrant Magda (Julia Ormonde) who manages the high-fashion side of the department. She’s survived a war and a Communist regime. Sweetly tough and uncompromising, her influence on Lisa’s personal growth and the relationship between Fay (Rachael Taylor) and Stefan (Vincent Perez) is a strong metaphor for the assimilation of post-war refugee migrants.

“Ladies In Black” moved me in a manner that I didn’t expect. Thanks, Bruce and Sue for making it.

At Dendy, Palace Electric, Capitol 6, Hoyts Belconnen and Limelight

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