Adapted from the bestselling novel by Madeleine St John, Ladies in Black is an alluring and tender-hearted comedy drama about the lives of a group of department store employees in 1959 Sydney.
Sydney, 1959. A time of change, and opportunity.
Centering around a Sydney department store in the late 50’s, Ladies in Black follows the lives of a handful of employees as they deal with marriage issues, further education and matters of the heart.
Lesley (or Lisa as she prefers to be known) is hired as a temporary sales assistant at Goode’s over the Christmas period. A smart cookie, she has aspirations of smashing her exams and getting a scholarship to her chosen university. She and her mum just have to be careful around her father who can be difficult, and is certainly not your most open-minded of blokes. In fact, he just can’t get his head around why a woman would need advanced education at all.
Lisa (Rice) quickly makes friends with Fay (who’s a little narrow-minded herself), Patty (Alison McGirr) and Slovenian Magda (Ormond), who owns a little designer boutique within the store. Lisa falls in love with the beautiful gowns Magda peddles, in particular a dress that nobody seems to want to buy. Increasingly marked down in price, Lisa is waiting for the day she can actually stretch to it herself.
Patty struggles to get her husband to pay attention to her so one day buys a sexy pink nightgown to seduce him, which goes down exceedingly well. So well, in fact that he freaks out and leaves her for the season, without a word. Meanwhile, Magda takes Lisa under her stylish wing and introduces her to all her continental pals.
One of those pals is Rudi, a Hungarian immigrant looking for an Australian wife. Initially he asks Magda if she knows anybody, which she says she doesn’t but Lisa suggests Fay (Taylor) might be the perfect fit. So Fay finds herself romanced by the handsome Hungarian with the intense life stories.
Lisa of course does better than anyone imagined in her final exams and easily gets into Sydney University, though Dad is still on the fence about granting his permission. Encouraged by Lisa’s new European friends, her mother starts introducing more exotic fare into her husband’s diet and it seems to be broadening the man’s mind. When Lisa’s family finally meet Magda, Lisa’s dad and Magda’s husband get on like a house on fire.
Patty’s husband finally comes home and Rudi pops a serious question to Fay, who was once rather snooty about immigrants. What’s her opinion now, I wonder?
And what about Lisa’s dream dress? Is it meant to be for the pair of them?
This is a nice film with good performances and a lovely vintage aesthetic. I won’t think of it again though, it just didn’t have the oomph I hoped for. I really enjoyed Lisa’s segment. She fully believes in her own potential and bloody goes for it, despite her father’s lack of understanding. The final scene, in which she celebrates her success and ponders what she’ll become one day – actress, poet, author or all three – is lovely.
But the rest of it is all quite meh. Fay gets engaged and immediately hands in her notice at the store because I guess women in the 50’s didn’t work and plan weddings/be wives. Which is sad. The tagline promises new opportunities and yes, it’s cute that she loves her fiance but there’s more to life than just the endgame of marriage, isn’t there? Though I guess true feminism is about choice and she makes hers.
As for Patty’s husband’s reason for skipping town, well that just seems ridiculous to me – honestly, it makes zero sense. He has a meltdown because they had passionate sex one night? I honestly thought they were leading up to him being gay so the big reveal was a bit confusing.
The stand out is definitely Julia Ormond as Magda but even she doesn’t get my pulse racing in this pretty wholesome, not-bad-for-a-Sunday-afternoon-with-a-cuppa-drama. Maybe I’m just broken on account of all the twisted shit I prefer to watch on the regs?