Bruce Beresford’s “Ladies in Black” holds a mirror to multicultural Australia

It’s taken more than 20 years to bring to the screen but Bruce Beresford’s Ladies in Black. His first Australian movie since Mao’s Last Dancer in 2009, is shaping as one of the most commercial films of his story career.

Director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) play it safe in his adaptation of Madeleine St John’s best-selling novel. There’s little conflict or anguish to be found as Beresford paints the Sydney summer of 1959 in full glow. The palette is bright and breezy, much like the film’s characters, who buoyantly waft on and off the screen. That with the innocence and exuberance of the period.

Sony Pictures is showing its confidence in the feel-good comedy. That drama based on Madeleine St John’s 1993 novel The Women in Black by planning a wide release on October 18. The Australian results will help determine the release plans in the rest of the world. That handled by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions.

“The aim is to make the film a big success in its home market, then take it to the rest of the world,” Stephen Basil-Jones, Sony’s executive VP for Australasia and northern Asia, tells IF. “We think it will have great playability in the suburbs, the big cities, the country and the regional areas. This movie appealing primarily to women of all ages, particularly 35-plus, and mature males.”

Beresford’s long-time producer Sue Milliken. She is not given to hyperbole, rates the film as one of the director’s best, telling IF: “It is a very happy film; audiences will have a lovely time.”

Bruce Beresford presents a puzzle to those who look for consistent patterns:

What could unify a career that spans the whole history of modern Australian cinema? Part of the answer is suggest by the title of one of his recognise classics. The Henry Handel Richardson adaptation The Getting of Wisdom. Many of his films are concern with learning experiences and moments of transition, whether individual, social or both.

Set in the summer of 1959, the film stars Angourie Rice as suburban schoolgirl Lisa. She takes a summer job at a department store where she works with a group of saleswomen who open her eyes to a world beyond her sheltered existence.

Christopher Gordon, who first collaborate with the director as the composer of Sydney: A Story of a City in 1999 and then Mao’s Last Dancer, compose the music which reflects the period.

“This has been a wonderful film to score. The orchestra had a great time recording the music and it is always a joy to work with Bruce, who is a very musical director,” Gordon tells IF.

Among the songs feature, Kate Miller-Heidke. She is co-wrote the music and lyrics for the musical Muriel’s Wedding, has record a new version of the Johnny O’Keefe classic She’s My Baby.

The ensemble cast includes Julia Ormond as Magda Szombatheli, the charming, sophisticate Slovenian émigré who manages the high-fashion floor, and Rachael Taylor and Alison McGirr as sales girls.

Shane Jacobson and Susie Porter play Lisa’s parents and Noni Hazlehurst is the floor supervisor. Ryan Corr, Luke Pegler, Nicholas Hammond and Vincent Perez also have supporting roles.

Beresford, who went to university with St John. She receive a copy of her book from his friend Clive James and adapt it into a feature screenplay, co-written with Milliken. (St John died in London in 2006, aged 64).

Milliken start pitching the project to Australian screen agencies and distributors in 1997

But gave up in 2010 after numerous rejections despite Beresford’s track record. His biggest hits have been Double Jeopardy ($US178 million worldwide gross), Driving Miss Daisy ($107 million), Mao’s Last Dancer and Crimes of the Heart.

Subsequently producer Allanah Zitserman teamed up with Milliken. They sent the same script to Screen Australia and Screen NSW, which provide production investment. Zitserman took the project to Basil-Jones, who alert his colleagues at Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions.

According to Milliken, the film deals with the cultural revolution. Which saw the rise of feminism and the influx of migrants which shaped multicultural Australia.

Basil-Jones adds: “The themes are so timely, including respect for women, immigration and the accent on fashion, food and style.” Several characters gain some degree of wisdom in Beresford’s Ladies in Black, based on the novel The Women in Black by his late friend Madeleine St John: A film fought for years to make, and which he can count as a personal triumph.

This film by veteran Aussie director Bruce Beresford. However, that is chorus-line-free. He’s remaine faithful to the original book by his old university classmate St John and to the prosaic approach he’s brought to two dozen or so features, including the Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy.

Set in Sydney in 1959, the story centres on the frock department of a fictitious upmarket store call Goode’s. A microcosm of a country on the cusp of change.

INFO:

Rating: PG (for some suggestive material, mild language, and smoking.)
Genre: Art House & International, Comedy, Drama
Directed By: Bruce Beresford
Stars: Julia Ormond, Angourie Rice, Rachael Taylor
Written By: Bruce Beresford, Sue Milliken
On Disc/Streaming: May 21, 2019
Runtime: 109 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures

CRITIC REVIEWS FOR LADIES IN BLACK:

Richard Kuipers
“Ladies” is let down by a screenplay lacking the sharp wit and emotional depth to bring its characters and themes fully to life.

Jake Wilson
From our vantage point 60 years on, Ladies in Black offers a vision – idealised, but perhaps not wholly false – of a moment when it was possible to welcome newcomers to the country and the unfamiliar ideas they brought with them.

Neil Young
Ladies in Black quietly but effectively points out the seldom-stressed positives of immigration and integration, and thus deserves attention far beyond its own native shores.

Wade Major
I love this film. I absolutely, unabashedly love it… It’s a wonderful, pastoral, poetic, melodramatic and oftentimes very funny and touching portrait of 1959 Sydney.

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