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

18 April, 2018 by Don Groves

(L-R) Alison McGirr, Angourie Rice and Rachael Taylor in ‘Ladies in Black.’

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 storied career.

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Sony Pictures is showing its confidence in the feel-good comedy-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, 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, appealing primarily to women of all ages, particularly 35-plus, and mature males.”

Beresford’s long-time producer Sue Milliken, who 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.”

Set in the summer of 1959, the film stars Angourie Rice as suburban schoolgirl Lisa, who 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 collaborated with the director as the composer of Sydney: A Story of a City in 1999 and then Mao’s Last Dancer, composed 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 featured, Kate Miller-Heidke, who co-wrote the music and lyrics for the musical Muriel’s Wedding, has recorded a new version of the Johnny O’Keefe classic She’s My Baby.

The ensemble cast includes Julia Ormond as Magda Szombatheli, the charming, sophisticated 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, received a copy of her book from his friend Clive James and adapted it into a feature screenplay, co-written with Milliken. (St John died in London in 2006, aged 64).

Milliken started 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 and they sent the same script to Screen Australia and Screen NSW, which provided production investment.

Zitserman took the project to Basil-Jones, who alerted 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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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