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  • Colin Fraser


THREE AND A HALF STARS Life is about to change for several ladies at a Sydney department store in the 1950's.

Angourie Rice, Rachel Taylor


In the late 1950’s, Australia was in danger of being swamped by immigrants. They brought with them peculiar ways, peculiar food and percolated coffee, they took our jobs and our women. Plus ça change. Anxiety was at an all time high yet the difference between then and now, at least in this charmingly sugar-coated account by Bruce Beresford (MAO’S LAST DANCER), is that Australia was intrigued by, rather than frightened of, these newcomers. Strewth they talk funny and behave oddly, but their manners, their food and their coffee made all the difference.

In the late 1950’s, the high-fashion department at Sydney’s most fashionable department store was run by Magda, a Balkan immigrant (Julia Ormond) whose family escaped the war. She takes a shine to Lisa (Angourie Rice) who’s working the holidays, and introduces the young girl to a world beyond her meat-and-three-veg life. Initial resistance by Lisa’s white-bread co-worker Fay (Rachel Taylor) soon falls away when Magda’s dashing Hungarian friend, the aspirational Rudi (Ryan Corr) appears. He may talk funny and behave oddly, but his manners, food and coffee made all the difference.

LADIES IN BLACK is on a charm offensive from the opening frame which will either suck you in, or spit you out depending on your taste for uplifting period drama. Beresford goes to some lengths re-creating Sydney of the fifties; an era of hats and gloves, trams, bicycles and sunsets on the harbour, and the old girl is at her sparkling best. Likewise the department store, a place of great dignity, an institution that aimed to reflect the best of society outside its elegant doors - yet stirrings of a multi-cultural change was beginning to cause waves.

Not that social commentary nor high drama is going to bother you here. Beresford is more interested in the mostly cheerful change affecting his ladies. Case in point: Lisa’s loving father (Shane Jacobson) is forced to wrestle with the reality that she (a girl!) has been accepted for university, and that olives taste funny. It’s in the small stories and minor chords that LADIES IN BLACK truly comes alive and the entire cast are on board with Rice, Taylor and Ormond leading the charge. Special mention to cinematographer Peter James and Production Designer Felicity Abbott (MOULIN ROUGE) who contribute to the framing of a delightfully handsome and thoroughly engaging crowd-pleaser.

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