‘Ladies in Black’ is one of the best Aussie films yet

‘Ladies in Black’ is one of the best Aussie films yet

Review: Ladies in Black

(M) Julia Ormond, Angourie Rice, Rachael Taylor, Ryan Corr

Ladies in Black is based in the rapidly changing culture of Australia during the late 1950s, specifically within the work and experiences of the sales force in the iconic Sydney department store, Goodes.

Lisa Miles (Angourie Rice) has taken a summer job during the Christmas rush, working amongst the ladies in black who work the sales floor of the bastion of fashion and style. While she waits for her final school exam results, the sixteen-year-old begins to find her place in the unique workplace. She manages to prove her worth to the seasoned team of Fay Baines (Rachael Taylor) and Patty Williams (Alison McGirr) who specialize in cocktail dresses. They become allies in this harsh atmosphere, but it is the teen’s connection with the elegant, immigrant manager of model gowns, Magda Szombatheli (Julie Ormond) who truly changes the life of this young student.

Lisa begins to learn that even though her insular home life has provided so much, it is Magda and her husband, Stefan (Vincent Perez) that open her eyes to all the world has to offer. Through their Eastern European heritage they attempt to show the aspiring student the fascinating cultures of literature, fashion and food. The well-intentioned couple also proves to be effective matchmakers by connecting one of Magda’s co-workers, Fay Baines with their Hungarian friend Rudi (Ryan Corr). A chivalrous and industrious man who merely wants to capitalize on the opportunities of the Land Down Under. This romantic tale manages to combine the value of an immigrant heritage of the young nation with an historical look at the impact of the ever-changing role of women in the workplace. The film also manages to show the importance of family in the lives of Australians.

What two-time Academy Award nominated film director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy & Tender Mercies) has managed to do with this beautiful tale from his former classmate is unprecedented in Australian cinema. The Australian director has delivered a film from his homeland that is positive and uplifting while taking on timeless issues of immigration and social equality in an endearing manner that does not disparage the past, but shows the value of each generation.

The beauty of Madeleine St John’s story is how it addresses the ever-changing social landscape of Australia while maintaining the respect of the previous generations. To overlay the microcosm of the retail atmosphere as a magnifying glass to Australian culture provides a perfect depiction of how cultural change affects all involved, but how mankind can work better together than against one another in this inevitable process.

Ladies in Black was a pleasant surprise. The film celebrates the value of family and the benefit of experiencing new cultures. This film is one of the best Australian films in years.

Looking Deeper

For some, it will draw a smile and for others, it will cause tears to well up in their eyes. Ladies in Black does bring out the best and worst of the family and marriage experience. Yet, it always holds the value of family in high regard. Family is a bittersweet gift that is given to us by God. Regardless of your personal reality with family, have you taken the time to show your parents, children and extended family the appreciation for the blessing that they are to you?

  1. What is sacrificial love? (John 15:13, Ephesians 5:25)
  2. What is the value of family? (John 15:12-17, Ephesians 5: 21)
  3. How should we respond to difficulties in life? (Romans 5:3-5, 1 Peter 5:10)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger.


2 thoughts on “‘Ladies in Black’ is one of the best Aussie films yet”

  1. This is indeed a quality film, telling stories within stories that can be appreciated at many levels. The mass media reviews that can’t see this as anything more than the coming of age story of Lisa/Leslie are just showing their ignorance and leave you wondering how they get paid to movie critics.

    This is not just a story about a girl getting into University despite her dad thinking that was a waste of her life, it’s the story of the coming of age of Australia! It’s about our nation beginning to embrace diversity, accepting new ways of thinking, eating, drinking and living. It’s about how those who came here from “across the seas” to share our “boundless planes” taught us the value of freedom and opportunity. They brought their determination born from suffering and taught us how to embrace the magnificence we had right on our doorstep, but too often had failed to appreciate.

    There are other stories within these stories too. It’s not only young Lisa who comes of age. Her dad is transformed, despite his own best efforts, in a typical Shane Jacobsen performance. Her mum is transformed as she realises that she needs to relate to her “little girl” as a young woman and not a child. It’s about the shy farmer from
    Wagga Wagga learning that it’s OK to love your wife passionately. It’s about the “refos” (refugees) coming to terms with their new life in a new country and finding their place. It’s about women learning that they have so much more to contribute than had been dreamed possible beforehand.

    There’s also nostalgia aplenty. The sight of trams pulling up outside the Downing Centre (dressed up as Goode’s store) and of Sydney without skyscrapers brought big smiles to my face, and the costumes and general atmosphere inside the fashion department is brilliantly depicted.

    This film is a masterpiece. It’s gentle, non-violent, deep and feel good.

    Go see it.

  2. Having been a young Lady in Black in Wagga, before I went on to Secondary education, many scenes resonated with me. I’ve recommended it to friends who have almost given up on going to movies.

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