Veteran Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) has evidently taken some 25 years to adapt the the bestselling novel by Madeleine St John to the screen. The result is a decidedly old-fashioned comedy drama that highlights the gentle world of Sydney in 1959 with just a hint of a message about the settlement of past WW2 refugees who would later end up to a significant part of the growing nation.
The story is set in Goodies the City’s chicest Department and is the tale of Leslie (Angourie Rice) a doted-upon only child who takes a temporary Christmas-period job amongst the black-clad ladies who are the mainstay of the staff. Most of them are focused on either getting a man, or keeping one at least, while Leslie who has re-named herself Lisa is just marking time to hopefully go to University.
The world is changing which seems to suit most people except Lisa’s conservative blue collar father (Shane Jacobson) who believes a woman’s role is as a wife and mother, so it is going to take a great deal of persuading for him to give the necessary permission for her to get a further education.
In the Store, Lisa is taken under the wing of Magda (Julia Ormond) a very glamorous Eastern European refugee in charge of the Model Gowns department (the name that used for couture dresses in those days). The two are mutually taken up with each other and once Magda realises how well-read her new protege is, she invites her to her home and meet her small circle of refugee intellectuals. They love mixing the old world with the new world that they are now becoming a part off.
In this most gentle of tales there are no plot surprises. We know that Lisa’s mother (Susie Porter) will manoeuvre her husband into letting Lisa go to University, and that the romantic colleague of Lisa’s will be a perfect match for Magda’s Hungarian friend Rudi (Ryan Corr) who is wanting an Australian bride. But Beresford’s experienced hand turns it all into a charming crowd-pleaser that will find an audience who simply ask for no more than to be entertained with a wee slice of nostalgia.
Both Ormond (not seen enough on the big screen) and Rice put in very convincing performances which help make this movie so easy to like.