Cel­e­brated Aussie di­rec­tor Bruce Beres­ford’s new film Ladies In Black proved a labour of love as he ful­filled a prom­ise to an old friend

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - NEWS - MERCEDES MAGUIRE

It was a film 24 years in the mak­ing, but di­rec­tor Bruce Beres­ford was de­ter­mined to see Ladies In Black make it to the big screen. Based on the book The Women In Black – writ­ten by his old Univer­sity of Syd­ney pal Madeleine St John – the film’s re­lease this week will be the re­al­i­sa­tion of a prom­ise made long ago, Beres­ford says.

“I told her I’d make the film be­fore she died, but she let me down,” he says af­fec­tion­ately of the au­thor and friend who died in 2006.

“But my en­thu­si­asm never wa­vered. Un­for­tu­nately not ev­ery­body shared my en­thu­si­asm for (the novel).

“At one point I had Amer­i­can in­vestors on board but they wanted me to set the story in Amer­ica. And the story would have worked in Amer­ica, but I didn’t want to do that, I wanted it to stay true to Madeleine’s story and she had writ­ten it set in Aus­tralia.”

At 77, Beres­ford has an im­pres­sive list of ac­claimed movies he has di­rected, span­ning a ca­reer of al­most 50 years, in­clud­ing Pu­berty Blues, Breaker Mo­rant, Mao’s Last Dancer, Black Robe and Driv­ing Miss Daisy – which won four Os­cars in 1990 in­clud­ing Best Pic­ture.

After an ab­sence of al­most 10 years, Ladies In Black led to the di­rec­tor work­ing in Aus­tralia again.

The film fol­lows the lives of four women who work in a fic­tional Syd­ney de­part­ment store, loosely based on David Jones, dur­ing the sum­mer of 1959.

It’s a decade in Aus­tralian his­tory that, on one hand holds a nos­tal­gic pull for Beres­ford who was a teenager in Toongab­bie in the ’50s, and on the other is a source of a lit­tle dis­dain.

“Aus­tralia was rather bor­ing in the 1950s, at least I found it rather bor­ing,” he says.

“I went to London after I grad­u­ated from univer­sity in the 1960s and I’m rather glad I did be­cause Aus­tralia then was very An­glo-Saxon, very con­ven­tional and rather stiff.

“There were no films on Sun­days, and to see a film as a teenager I re­mem­ber I had to travel quite far – I would go to Wat­sons Bay on a tram from where I lived out west be­cause they would show old films as re­vival screen­ings there.”

But this ex­pe­ri­ence didn’t ham­per Beres­ford’s en­thu­si­asm to make a film set in the era, which he says pos­i­tively high­lighted the com­ing of mi­grants and the im­pact their ar­rival had on Aus­tralian culture.

“They changed so much for Aus­tralia, they brought new foods and so much culture to this coun­try,” he says.

His half-cen­tury work­ing in the film in­dus­try has given Beres­ford a bird’s-eye view of the busi­ness, which he has com­mem­o­rated in a few mem­oir-style books in­clud­ing The Best Film I Never Made, Josh Hart­nett Def­i­nitely Wants To Do This and There’s A Fax From Bruce.

The di­rec­tor is quite can­did about his deal­ings with some of the big­gest names in the in­dus­try, which has some­times left him open to crit­i­cism, most fa­mously when he said Toni Col­lette had over­acted in the movie Japanese Story, a com­ment he says was to­tally blown out of pro­por­tion.

In fact, Beres­ford is en­tirely en­thu­si­as­tic about Aus­tralian ac­tors, in par­tic­u­lar 17-yearold An­gourie Rice who stars as sub­ur­ban teen Lisa Miles in Ladies In Black.

“An­gourie Rice was ab­so­lutely de­light­ful to di­rect,” he says.

“She’s one of those ac­tors who have such re­fined in­stincts, an in­nate sense as an ac­tor – and at her age! And she was in­cred­i­bly en­gag­ing, fo­cused and with sheer tal­ent on top of it all.”

Beres­ford, cur­rently based in Syd­ney, plans on di­rect­ing an opera in Mel­bourne in Oc­to­ber. But he is also scout­ing around for his next film pro­ject – and is not at all ready to re­tire.

“I read ev­ery pro­ject and script sent to me, why wouldn’t I?” he asks.

“I get a few a week. Some­times if it’s lousy I stop about a quar­ter of the way in. I ask my­self ‘Do I re­ally want to tie my­self up for a year with this?’ which is about how long a film takes to make.” Ladies In Black opens in cin­e­mas na­tion­ally today

An­gourie Rice stars in Ladies In Black, a film fol­low­ing the lives of four women work­ing in a Syd­ney de­part­ment store in 1959.

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