A look at Ladies in Black
Aussie director Bruce Beresford has bequeathed to we cinema goers some handy offerings about his home country.
His latest, set in the Sydney summer of 1959, rates with me as one of his best yet. It doesn’t preach to us, doesn’t rail at the cultural differences between home-grown Aussies and migrants from Europe and certainly doesn’t hand down judgments about how the people depicted in the film should lead their lives.
Sixteen-year-old Lesley, who prefers the name Lisa, starts work straight after her Matriculation exams in the women’s frock section of big department store Goode’s.
Lisa (Angourie Rice) works alongside Fay (Rachael Taylor) and Patty (Alison McGirr) but it’s a stylish Slovenian refugee who takes the shy girl under her wing. This is Magda (Julia Ormond) who runs the cocktail gown section where the most expensive items can be found.
Magda is a positive, dynamic force in the department and a better companion to her co-workers than the overall head of the frock department (Noni Hazlehurst) who merely observes her younger employees from a distance. She takes Lesley under her wing. The teenager has to cope with a gruff father (Shane Jacobson, who works as a linotype operator in the Sydney Morning Herald’s hot lead compositors‘ room) and her world weary mother (Susie Porter in a role as convincing as any I’ve seen her in).
At Goode’s Magda also finds a suitable man for the lovelorn Fay and indirectly assists sexually frustrated Patty who has a repressed husband prone to disappearing out of the house for extended periods.
It’s when Lesley’s exam results come out that the whole dynamic changes. In the late Fifties and early Sixties there was no internet or iPhones so all the teens had to flock down to the Herald’s building where the results are posted on noticeboards, sometime after midnight.
Working away on his hot metal keyboard Lesley’s unsophisticated Dad is congratulated by workmates, the section foreman and even a senior reporter. His daughter has scored five As and an automatic place at Sydney Uni. Next task for Lesley and Mum is to get a reluctant father to sign her Uni entry form and application for a Commonwealth scholarship.
Meanwhile Fay has fallen in love with handsome Rudi (Ryan Corr) and it’s only when she unburdens herself to him we learn about her past. She tells Rudi she’s from Bendigo (in fact Rachael Taylor is a Launceston girl in real life) and was installed in a King’s Cross flat by a 40-something sugar daddy. But she’s overcome those sordid years and is now contemplating a much rosier future with Rudi.
Patty’s husband has returned home from Wagga Wagga and their lives seem destined to be much rosier while Magda and her husband prepare for a boisterous New Year’s Eve party to celebrate everyone’s successes.