The recent ABC series “Ladies in Black” presents vintage fashion and feminist anthems

Ladies in Black, ABC’s recent six-part series, begins with Magda (Debi Mazar), the pinnacle of “Model Gowns” at luxury department store Goodes.

As Magda confidently walks down the major street, we hear Peggy Lee’s famous hymn of feminist resistance from 1962: I’m a girl.

Chic and modern, the epitome of the confident Nineteen Sixties woman, she wears a hat from costume designer Marion Boyce's vintage clothing collection. We are introduced to several other key characters and see a streetscape lined with vintage cars. The scene of Sydney in 1961 is established.

Inspiration and adaptation

The series is inspired by the bestselling 1993 novel “The Women in Black” by Madeleine St. John and follows two previous adaptations: first the 2015 stage musical “Ladies in Black” with music by Tim Finn after which the successful 2018 feature film “Ladies in Black” by director Bruce Beresford.

Director Gracie Otto is quoted within the press kit as saying that she was inspired by Mad Men (2007-15) or The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel (2017-23), each of that are set in the identical era as this series and, like those, tell stories about women attempting to carve out their place on the planet on their very own terms. One Australian production that involves mind in an analogous style is Miss Fischer Modern (2019).

But it also follows a convention – or perhaps it is nearly a genre – of shows set in malls and with similar topoi: “The Paradise” (2012–13), set in 1875 and based on a novel in regards to the founding father of the Paris department store Le Bon Marché; “Mr. Selfridge” (2013–16), the retelling of the founding of Selfridge's in London between 1908 and 1928; and “House of Promises” (2022–23), set in a glamorous department store in Nineteen Twenties Berlin.

The cultural context

Unlike the book and several other adaptations, that are all set in 1959, this television series is ready two years later and suggests that it’s the subsequent installment.

The Nineteen Sixties offer some key elements of history: the Post-war immigration boom (reflected within the migrant characters and storylines); burgeoning art and culture (picked up in references to “free love and French cinema” or “The push” — a left-wing libertarian group that existed in Sydney); and reference to the contraception pill that was released in Australia in 1961.

Production photo: A woman puts on make-up
The show is a homage to the Swinging Sixties.

None of that is explained intimately, but they point to the context, as are the references to sexism, classism and racism of the time already in the primary episode.

This show is a tribute to the spirit of the Swinging Sixties and features several characters fascinated with sex.

Lisa (Clare Hughes), a naive first-year student, gets right into a difficult situation and can’t be saved by the clever Angela.

Fay (Jessica De Gouw) and her husband Rudi (Thom Green) are making out in a flowery Borgward Isabella, which he bought to maintain them entertained when the babies arrive – but she doesn't feel prefer it yet and is on the pill.

Production image: Miranda Otto in a department store.
Mrs. Ambrose is the contrast to all the opposite characters.

In contrast, the terrifying Mrs. Ambrose (Miranda Otto) is the foil to all the opposite characters. She has been recruited by Harrods as the brand new head of the Model Gowns department and we all know from the moment she moves a vase of flowers a couple of inches that it's either her way or nothing.

She embodies colonialism, seems to detest Australia and its lush flowers, displays a way of English superiority, and represents the Old World against modernity.

Finding the suitable audience

People who enjoy shopping will probably like this show greater than those that don't.

For connoisseurs, consumption and luxury malls are an experience that triggers a “feel-good” dopamine release, sometimes also generally known as Shopping Spree. Whether one buys something or not, it’s a place where shoppers can imagine an alternate self. It has an appeal, creates desire and admiration for something beautifully made, cut or crafted and, importantly, it connects the person.

Production image: Two models at a fashion shoot.
People who enjoy shopping will probably like this show greater than those that don't.

In the primary episode, Angela (Azizi Donnelly) understands this when, on her first day on the Ladies' Cocktail bar, she delightedly touches the cocktail and swings in a 360-degree circle with joy – clearly in heaven!

That's a giant solid for a six-part series. That would mean the producers have much more scripts and hope that viewers prefer it so that they could make one other one.

The women's experiences are the main target and feminine characters, whether friends or enemies, get a number of screen time and steal the show. The male characters are terrible. They are inept, always disappointing their wives, girlfriends and daughters, and see all the pieces from their very own male perspective.

A musical accompaniment into the longer term

The music is dominant throughout and contributes strongly to the story. When Angela gets ready for work within the second episode, the lyrics usually are not in English, which underlines that she is a Lebanese girl from Redfern.

Production image: A woman on the beach.
Angela is a Lebanese girl from Redfern.

The music matches the humor well. Riffs of As Time Goes By (Dooley Wilson's tune from Casablanca) provide a musical connection to lines like Angela's statement, “Of all the department stores in the world, he had to go to mine.” These references connect the characters and prepare the audience for trouble.

Whether you want Ladies in Black or not is dependent upon whether you want shopping, fashion, female-led stories about female friendship, clever music and 60s costumes. If one other series is made, there are many possibilities for this story.

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