It’s Sunday Book Review time, and once again, I’m sneaking in a movie I recently watched – Ladies in Black, written by Madeline St. John. This movie is a story that takes place in the 1959 era, where women’s jobs consisted mostly of being a secretary or working in retail sales. The movie depicts the lives of 4 women who work in Goode’s Department store in Sydney, Australia at a time where European migration changes the landscape of Australia with cultural changes, a mixing of class structure, and the rise of Women’s Liberation. Lisa is a shy teen and aspiring writer who takes a part-time Christmas job at Goode’s, and befriends 3 women who open up a whole new world to her from her sheltered life at home. Once the movie began, I could totally understand the appropriate title chosen, but if you didn’t delve further than the title, one would have no idea what the movie is about.
“The book I most often give as a gift to cheer people up.” —Hilary Mantel
An irresistibly charming debut novel set in a department store in Sydney in the 1950s.
The women in black, so named for the black frocks they wear while working at an upscale department store called Goode’s, are run off their feet selling ladies’ cocktail dresses during the busy season. But in Sydney in the 1950s, there’s always time to pursue other goals…
Patty, in her mid-thirties, has been working at Goode’s for years. She’s married to Frank, who eats a steak for dinner every night, watches a few minutes of TV, and then turns in, leaving Patty to her own thoughts. She wants a baby, but Frank is always too tired for that kind of thing. Sweet Fay, wants to settle down with a nice man, but somehow nice men don’t see her as marriage material.
The glamorous Magda runs the high-end gowns department. A Slovenian émigré who met her Hungarian husband in a refugee camp, Magda is clever and cultured. She finds the Australians to be unfashionable, and dreams of opening her own boutique one day.
Lisa, a teenager awaiting the results of her final exams, takes a job at Goode’s for the holidays. She wants to go to university and secretly dreams of being a poet, but her father objects to both notions. Magda takes Lisa under her wing, and by the time the last marked-down dress has been sold, all of their lives will be forever changed.
Perfect for fans of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, this delightful and uplifting novel portrays the roles of women in the 1950s and the timeless importance of female friendship.
My 5 Star Review:
Sixteen year old Lisa takes a Christmas job in a fancy department store in Sydney, Australia, working with the ‘ladies in black’. The women wore black cocktail dresses as their work uniforms behind the counters of the women’s dress department. Lisa comes from a sheltered life background and holds aspirations to one day become a poet – or a an actress. Simple life experiences the ‘glam’ life. She befriends the two ladies she works with – Patty and Fay, who both have their own aspirations, and Lisa sometimes gets transferred to the ‘fancy, high fashion’ department where she is taken in under the wing of Magda, played by Julia Ormond, a Slovenian emigrant in charge of that department.
Lisa learns world politics and culture from Magda and her Hungarian husband Stefan who both migrated to Australia after meeting in a prisoner camp when escaping the war in Europe. Lisa’s parents have a difficult time of letting their daughter grow up, and as LIsa awaits her acceptance to university, her father disapproves. As we watch the relationship grow between Magda and Lisa, we learn that Magda’s strong affection for Lisa develops because Magda is preparing Lisa for the outside world that Magda says she missed out on.
Meanwhile, Lisa’s new friends at the counter, Pat and Fay have struggles of their own, Pat feels as though she’s in a stagnant marriage and wants a baby, and Fay seems to meet the ‘wrong guy’ all the time – that’s until she’s introduced to Magda’s nephew, Rudy.
I thought this was a most wonderful feel good movie involving the lives of these 4 women, a lovely mix of relationships, friendships. character growth, and underlying reference to politics of the times. The landscape footage is just exquisite and a treat for someone like me who has never been to Australia. This is definitely a movie that inspires me to read the book.
Best quote: “Nobody understands men, and they don’t understand themselves.”