Based on the novel The Women In Black by Madeleine St. John, we find ourselves in Sydney, Australia. It is 1959, Christmas and we are at Goode’s department store.
Fay, Rachel Taylor (“Gold“, “The Loft”), and Patty, Alison McGirr (“Damaged”, “Home And Away (TV)”), are friends working on the womenswear counter at Goode’s department store.
Fay is a young, single, blonde woman with a history whilst Patty is married to Frank, Luke Pegler (“Hacksaw Ridge“, “Home And Away (TV)”), a roofer, and they are trying for children, which isn’t quite happening at the moment.
To cope with the Christmas rush, Goode’s hires Lisa, Angourie Rice (“The Nice Guys“, “Spider-Man: Homecoming“), a young, intelligent girl who is awaiting her exam results, earning some money whilst she does so.
They all work selling dresses to the ladies of Australia, whilst over in another section is Slovenian Magda, Julia Ormond (“Mad Men (TV)”, “Chained”), who sells couture, one-off gowns to the more elite of Australia.
Each woman has their own challenge: Fay is looking for love, but unhappy at the prospect of an Australian ‘rough-and-tough’, man’s, man. She wants a prince, a knight in shining armour. Patty wants desperately to get pregnant but that doesn’t seem to be happening, though it might help if Frank would actually go near her.
Meanwhile Lisa is trying to overcome the prejudices of her father who regularly tells her that “no daughter of mine is going to university”, though his mind is changed somewhat when Lisa receives some stellar exam results.
Magda meanwhile, despite at first being portrayed as this woman who swans in and thinks she owns the place, turns out to be the glue that brings everyone together. She sets Fay up with her friend Rudi, Ryan Corr (“Outlaws”, “Hacksaw Ridge“), and Lisa with a young man and generally is happy to help whenever and wherever she can.
The screenplay, by Sue Miliken and Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”, “Breaker Morant”) – who also directs – is a lovely mix of sweet sentiment, the harsh realities of fifties Australia (and most of the West), as well as cleverly bringing in some modern day feelings and attitudes, particularly around migrants into the country.
Beresford directs with his usual aplomb, showing off Sydney in all its sunshine, which is just weird as a Westerner used to cold Christmas’s! The fifties outfits, cars and homes shine on the screen in the baking sunshine, with Christmas trees.
Everybody performs very well, yes there are some dodgy accents going on, not quite sure what that is all about, but they perform well. But someone in particular stands above everyone else.
Angourie Rice is just a delight on screen, stealing every scene she’s in, even going up against the wonderful Julia Ormond, she can more than hold her own.
She smiles and laughs and just has fun throughout, all the while with a smile on her face. It’s a perfect bit of casting and a perfect performance from the 18-year old who you can next see in Black Mirror and the next Spider-Man movie.
Ladies In Black is an unexpected delight, funny, charming, beautiful to watch and has some moving moments too. It’s a beauty from down under.
21st May 2019
THE QUICK SELL
Ladies in Black is an alluring and tender-hearted comedy drama about the lives of a group of department store employees in 1959 Sydney.