Oscar nominee Bruce Berseford is set to direct a film adaptation of Madeleine St John’s beloved 1993 novel The Women in Black, having just received major production investment funding from Screen Australia. The film version comes after a successful stage musical adaptation of the book, renamed Ladies in Black.
Beresford, whose credits include Breaker Morant, Puberty Blues, Tender Mercies, and the Best Picture Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy, has wanted to adapt St John’s novel for many years, and is the literary executor of her estate.
In a 2009 edition of the novel, an introduction by Beresford tells of how he sent the first draft of the screenplay to St John shortly before her death in 2006. St John responded with no notes, simply that she looked forward to seeing the film.
In a statement, Beresford said: “I’ve been obsessed with making a film of Madeleine St John’s The Women in Black (now Ladies in Black) since I first read the novel about 15 years ago, after being told about it by Clive James, who had also been at Sydney University with Madeleine and myself. I was attracted by Madeleine’s wit, her light touch, her deft characterisations and her portrayal of a Sydney I knew so well — the Sydney of the 1950s and ‘60s — a time when the whole of Australia began to change because of the influx of European migrants (most of them escaping a depressed war-ruined Europe), who brought a whole range of talents (and invariably delicious cuisine) that created the successful multi-cultural society of the Australia we live in today.”
Ladies in Black follows Lisa, a young suburban Australian girl whose eyes are opened to the world when she scores a casual job at one of Sydney’s biggest department stores in the summer of 1959. She meets the formidable and diverse saleswomen who populate the department store, and guide her cultural awakening.
Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason says the female-led story has the potential to be another box office hit like The Dressmaker.
The film will be distributed by Sony Pictures and produced by Allanah Zitserman and Samson Productions’ Sue Milliken, who co-wrote the screenplay with Beresford. It marks Beresford’s first Australian film since 2009’s Mao’s Last Dancer, and will shoot in Sydney this year.