TL;DR – This is a film that is filled with joy from start to finish, a truly beautiful film
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
There are times when you need to delve into the complex machinations of a political intrigue or see two superheroes brawl in the ruins of a fallen civilization or explosions in space as ships rocket past. However, there are times when you need to take a step back and just immerse yourself in the world of other people living extraordinary lives filled with glamour and beauty.
So to set the scene, we open in Sydney, Australia in 1959, a time of great change between tradition and the future. It tells the story of ladies who work as sales assistants in Goode’s department store an up-market establishment in the heart of the city. Lisa (Angourie Rice) has just finished school and is starting on her first day of a summer job to earn some money before she hopefully starts university in the new year, that is if her father Mr Miles (Shane Jacobson) lets her. Myra (Celia Massingham) has been working at the store for a long time and everyone is wondering when it is that she will leave to start a family with her husband Frank (Luke Pegler). Fay (Rachael Taylor) is working at the store while she tries to find love, but she only gets set up with men that are handsy and spent hours talking just about cricket, an understandable deal breaker. There is Magda (Julia Ormond) who is in charge of the exclusive unique dresses, everyone calls her a ‘refo’ as she had escaped the violence of war-torn Europe. Finally, there is the one constant in the store Miss Cartwright (Noni Hazlehurst), the one who knows everything about the store and the people in it.
you are creating a world, even one that is based in a real time and place, it
is important that you world build. Here
in Ladies in Black, this is achieved through set and costume design, as well
as hints as to the dangers of the past. The amount of work that has gone in to
get every single costume for every character both main and even every extra
must have been an enormous undertaking, but they are all era-appropriate and are also stunning to see.
The costumes are also used to tell a story, you see that in the opening scenes
as the women put on their black dresses in the same way people might put on
armour before a battle, or how some characters are wearing clothing that has been clearly handmade, it is all helping to
tell that tale about who they are. I also have to give a shout out to the
location scout for finding those parts of Sydney that still exude the 1950s,
I’m sure there was a lot of selective framing and digital editing to get many
of those wide shots but it all helps, and there is only one or two iffy digital
created establishing shots, but that does not take away from it.
One of the interesting things is that they have taken the route of hinting about the past, so when Rudi (Ryan Corr) talks about working in the railways during the war and the unpleasantness you can guess he is talking about the Holocaust. It fits for the characters and the world that the war is so raw that they don’t want to talk about it but then it is a part of who they are so they can’t ignore it. This also flows on to the portrayal of Australia during this time. With the flow of refugees after World War 2, the predominately English Australia was being shaken out of its cocoon view of the world. Now it is here where the film might delve into a rose-tinted view of Australia and how people respond to change, maybe even diving into fantastical reality at times. However, given the world we live in, sometimes it is okay to live in the world of fantasy where people can see the error of their ways and change who they are when new information is presented to them.
Clearly one of the most interesting things about the film is how it pushes the male characters to the periphery of the story and focuses in on the women’s lives. This gives the movie a framework to explore the juxtaposition between the lives of the mothers and the daughters and how their futures will be markedly different. This means that this is a story about mothers and daughters, a story of women looking out for each other, and the story of opportunities that come from a shifting world. Now this means that Ladies in Black is not always a happy film, indeed there is some deep sadness in the lives of many of the women. However, it is those moments that give reflection for what is changing and the joy of what the future brings.
All of this work building and exploration of theme would not work unless it was being embodied in the actor’s performances, and it is here where Ladies in Black also excels. Angourie Rice is one of Australia’s amazing up and coming actors with a range that includes both The Nice Guys (see review) and Jasper Jones (see review) happening in the same year. Here she is one of, if not the lead protagonist so a lot of the film is carried by her and her story, and she has to play a very difficult role which she does amazingly. Julia Ormond as Magda has to embody someone who is both larger than life but also deeply grounded, and I don’t know how she managed to walk that line without slipping into caricature but the sheer power of her performance was a wonder to watch. Rachael Taylor could have played Fay as just the love interest to Rudi, and in any other film that is what she would be, but instead, she gives depth to her character that shows the effects of the past and how that informs her present. Also while this is a film that is putting its female characters up front and centre the men in the supporting cast are also giving great performances, with Vincent Perez, Ryan Corr, and Shane Jacobson all being standouts whenever they are on screen. Finally, I do want to say, no matter what film you are making it will always be better if you cast Noni Hazlehurst in it, and Ladies in Black is no exception. You want to see these characters succeed because the work the writers have done to create them as living human beings, and the work the actors have done to bring them to life.
In the end, do we recommend Ladies in Black? Yes, of course, we do. It was a beautifully made film that filled my life with joy, there are moments of sadness, moments of laughter, and moments where you just can’t help but have a smile on your face. It is a beautifully crafted film that I hope everyone who can goes to see it.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow
Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
he’ll be talking about International Relations,
or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Ladies in Black
Directed by – Bruce Beresford
Screenplay by – Bruce Beresford & Sue Milliken
Based on – The Women in Black by Madeleine St John.
Music by – Christopher Gordon
Cinematography by – Peter James
Edited by – Mark Warner
Starring – Rachael Taylor, Julia Ormond, Angourie Rice, Vincent Perez, Susie Porter, Ryan Corr, Nicholas Hammond, Shane Jacobson, Noni Hazlehurst, Deborah Kennedy, Luke Pegler, Celia Massingham, Alison McGirr, Trent Baines & Jesse Hyde
Rating – Australia: PG