Home » Men play a part: Bruce Beresford and Sue Milliken’s Ladies In Black showcases the role men can play in telling women’s stories

Men play a part: Bruce Beresford and Sue Milliken’s Ladies In Black showcases the role men can play in telling women’s stories

20 Sep 2018 | BY Shelley Lee - @ShelleyLee_

ladies in black ormond


It’s taken a quarter of a century but Ladies in Blackthe big screen adaptation of Madeleine St John’s hit book finally has finally hit screens across Australia, director Bruce Beresford  and long-time collaborator, producer Sue Milliken say, for them, it was worth the wait.



Set in the summer of 1959, the film peeks into the colourful personal of the black-clad women working in the Women’s Cocktail department at Goodes(a fictional David Jones), centred on the coming-of-age story of Lisa, played by Angourie Rice (The Beguiled).


St John, who attended Sydney University with Beresford, released her novel in 1993 and despite quickly snaring the option to make it into a movie, the act of actually getting it on screens proved significantly slower for Beresford and Milliken.


The lavish fashions splashed across screens (if retro looks rock your socks, you’ll be in dress-perve heaven) hint at how much some things have changed in Sydney since the 50s setting. However, St John’s core themes of gender equality and migration haven’t fazed out like petticoats, and are still still staunchly debated by politicians and around water-coolers across the country.


While some directors only like to see their own stories on screen, Beresford has an extensive track record (Breaker Morant, Fringe Dwellers, Black Robe, Puberty Blues) of delivering content largely detached from his own lived experience as a white male of a certain age (at 78 years young he tells us he’s “old”).

Ladies in Black goes behind the closed doors into the homes of a teenage girl ( Rice) and her mother ( Susie Porter), a 40-something migrant ( Julia Ormond) , a young working wife  – bucking the trend  and social pressures by earning a buck despite getting hitched (Alison McGirr), and a young romantic ( Rachel Taylor).

It also features the fantastic Noni Hazlehurst, who told The FIERCE about how these themes fit into the current #MeToo context




How does Beresford strive to authentically depict a female-driven story?

1- Centre the film on a FIERCE story (narrative and characters generated by a woman) and stay faithful to it

2- Co-wrote the screenplay with a women ( Milliken and Beresford co-wrote the script together)

3- He didn’t assume already knew everything about these women (he describes himself as a “busybody”, code for snoopy geek when it comes to researching the lives of others)

4- He surrounded himself with a creative team that has strong female representation. Ladies in Black  earns a F6 rating on the FIERCE Factor measuring female input into a production.

Ladies in Black (PG) is now out in cinemas across Australia.