Ladies in Black is a 2018 Australian film that feels like the 1959 Sydney it depicts with loving detail. It was a time of great change. The story of change is told through the eyes of the ladies in black who worked in Goode’s Department store.
Sixteen year old Lisa (Angourie Rice) takes a job for the Christmas holidays as an assistant in the ladies department at Goode’s.
Lisa works with Patty (Alison McGirr) and Fay (Rachael Taylor). The impressive immigrant woman who sells the most expensive gowns is Magda (Julia Ormond). Magda intimidates Patty and Fay, but she takes a shine to Lisa and helps her transform into someone more fashionable. Each of these 4 characters gets her own storyline.
Lisa wants to go to university. With the help of her mother (Susie Porter) she convinces her dad (Shane Jacobson) to sign an application for a scholarship. He doesn’t think a girl needs to go to university. Lisa is determined and she has the good grades to go with her ambitions.
Lisa gains confidence as she gets to know the ladies in black. It’s an experience completely different from her upbringing. Lisa shares her literary aspirations with them. She loans Fay, who dropped out of school very young, a copy of Anna Karenina. The book affects Fay powerfully.
Magda is more than just a fashion makeover maven. She’s a bit of a matchmaker as well. She introduces Fay to the elegant and refined immigrant Rudi (Ryan Corr). Fay has a dark past and is leery of men. Rudi manages to overcome her fear.
Patty is married to a shy fellow (Luke Pegler) who doesn’t understand that a woman wants to be loved by her man.
Magda. Oh, Magda is a force. Julia Ormond’s accent comes and goes in this, but Magda is still a force. She invites Lisa to her home. She serves her Continental foods and introduces her husband Stefan (Vincent Perez), also a refugee. Magda collects people and fixes and improves them.
Themes around women’s rights and immigration are handled with a light touch. It’s clear that both these things will improve society, but the point is made subtly.
Bruce Beresford directed this very old-fashioned feeling drama. Everything about it is period-perfect. The language, the manners, the fashions, the streetcars and buses, the storefronts – even the end credits. There’s no violence and no bad language.
You can find this charmer on Prime Video and a couple of other streamers.