BLACK BEAUTY LOOMS
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
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.