Ladies in Black is the latest Australian offering, about the lives of a small group of women working in the Sydney Goodes store during the 1950s. Adapted from the novel of the same name, the film follows young Lisa who begins working at Goodes over the Christmas season. While working there she meets several women who are busy dealing with matters of the heart. In getting to know these women, Lisa grows and matures, and begins to realise what she really wants and the battles she must fight to get where she wants to go.
Ladies in Black is packed full of well-known Australian actors including Noni Hazelhurst (Play School), Rachael Taylor (Red Dog, Jessica Jones), Shane Jacobson (Kenny), Ryan Corr (Packed to the Rafters, Not Suitable for Children) and Angourie Rice (Jasper Jones, The Nice Guys).
Not surprisingly, Angourie Rice ruled the film as Lisa, with her young naivety and book smarts which bring a real depth to the character that most of the others lacked. Her determination to go to university despite her father’s, and societies wishes, made her a quiet force, as did the careful manipulation of her mum to allow her to dress more maturely.
However, it was British actress Julia Ormond playing fiery, Slovenian native Magda, who was the star. The film shows her constantly fighting against her immigrant label to prove her worth. In doing so, her performance brings an energy and comedic element to the film that is largely lacking from the other characters, and you eagerly wait for her reappearance every time she’s not on-screen.
The film is sweet but almost a little too sweet. The stories among the other characters range from a girl who is trying to find a future husband but seems to be consistently set up with dirtbags by her supposed “best friend”; a lady who’s marriage is stuck in a rut despite only having been with her husband for a short time; and the manager of Goodes who watches all the drama unfold but is determined to keep it off the shop floor. Basically, they’re all a bit dull.
Of course, there are the obvious themes being put forward, such as female empowerment, immigration, and racial tensions. Yet the female empowerment element falters, because most of the women are focused on marriage and keeping their husbands happy which is almost the opposite of female empowerment. Likewise, the racial issues are similar in that they haven’t been dealt with properly. Very few characters actually recovered from their racial profiling of other characters, which in some ways, also pushes a belief that Australian’s are mildly racist at heart.
The scale of set design in the film Ladies in Black is unlike anything I’ve seen in an Australian film before, and the costumes add to the romanticism of the whole film. I recommend seeing it for this reason alone, but the film doesn’t have a lot of depth to it falling more into the chick flick, romantic comedy genre.