Ladies in Black TV Guide – The essentials: cast biographies, episode guide, and more

Ladies in Black

Plus Debi Mazar, Miranda Otto and Jessica De Gouw and more talk about their characters

What you need to know about the new ABC drama Ladies in Black set in Sydney, 1961. The women who work in Goodes department store ladieswear face tumultuous times with work and home challenges amidst the fashion transformation of the sixties.

Based on the world and characters of Madeleine St John’s novel, and picking up six months after the events of Bruce Beresford’s film, Ladies in Black dives into the fashion, romance, drama and disappointment of women’s lives at a time of momentous transformation.

Where to watch: ABC TV, iview

See also: Mercado on TV – Ladies in Black transition from film to TV is seamless and brilliant

Miranda Otto (plays VIRGINIA ), Jessica De Gouw (plays FAY), Debi Mazar (plays MAGDA) Ladies in Black key cast

Ladies in Black Synopsis

It’s 1961. Girls are risking arrest to wear bikinis on the beach. Women are faking marriage certificates to get the pill. In the ladieswear department of Goodes it’s all hats, gloves and foundation garments, but for the women who serve behind the counter, the sixties are about to start swinging. The revolution in society and fashion will divide the Ladies in Black and threaten each of their worlds.

Magda, the elegant doyenne of Model Gowns, has a beautiful dream. Her own boutique to nurture new designers and bring original Australian fashion to working women and newly liberated girls. However, a woman can’t take a mortgage or sign a lease without her husband’s signature and Magda’s Stefan makes a risky investment that crushes her dream. Trapped at Goodes, Magda must fight her way back from the bottom to bring her vision to life.

Mrs Ambrose, just arrived from Harrods, is appalled by Australians’ rough and ready approach to customer service. Her clients adore her, and she gives them exactly what they want: conservative, traditional, exclusive. Steely and combative, she has not travelled across the world to throw away a lifetime of experience by thrusting the ladies of Sydney into designs they don’t want to wear. Mrs Ambrose employs every trick to build her empire within the store, but her own secrets could bring her down.

Fay is blissfully happy as the new Mrs Janosi, despite Rudi’s excessive work hours and suggestions of ‘improving’ books, operas and symphonies. His ambitious attempt at expansion left the newlyweds and Magda and Stefan submerged in debt. Fay must put aside plans to start a family and commit to Goodes where she finds herself in the middle of the battle between the conservative old guard and a treacherous leap into risky new fashions. Feeling betrayed by Rudi, she must decide between a life of uncertainty and the simplicity of returning to the way things were.

Lisa is taking the first steps towards her ‘big life’ at university when a sudden tragedy puts her hopes on hold. Forced back to Goodes by financial stress Lisa has difficult choices between work and study, ambition and education, family loyalty and the temptations of the libertarians and their world of university, drinking, sex and philosophical debate. Lisa throws herself into romance, friendship and adventure with a passionate naïveté that could tip her into disaster.

A career in fashion seems an impossible dream for a Lebanese girl from Redfern, but once hired at Goodes, Angela is the perfect addition to ladieswear at Goodes. However, the lies she has told to get herself hired run deep and dangerous. As she thrives within the Ladies in Black family, everyone’s love and loyalty will be put to the test.

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Adapting Ladies in Black for Television

Following on from the 2018 film of the same name and drawing inspiration from the 1993 novel, Ladies in Black, the television adaptation sees the women from Goodes Department Store fling open their shop doors to the fabulous 60s.

A Bunya Entertainment production, directed by Gracie Otto (The Arftul Dodger, The Clearing, Heartbreak High), Ladies in Black takes place in 1961, where amidst this backdrop of major societal shifts, the women embracing more freedom and independence are forced to confront personal choices and challenges which cast shadows over their once cherished dreams.

Bunya Entertainment, a division of Bunya Productions, was looking for strong ideas for television series and its then co-managing director Sophia Zachariou loved the premise of the film, which had been a significant box office hit in Australia. She approached the film’s producers Sue Milliken and Allanah Zitzserman and was able to secure the rights for the TV adaptation. Sophia produced the series with Angela Littlejohn, Greer Simpkin, and David Jowsey.

Writing team

The writing team for Ladies in Black was led by Greg Waters, who had read the novel many years ago while a script executive at the ABC. At the time Greg was keen to see the book adapted for television but the film, to be directed by Oscar-winner Bruce Beresford, was already underway. For the series to now be premiering on the ABC, is a full circle moment for Waters.

“In the first episode all the key characters have something that comes out of the blue and transforms their lives,” he said. “They each begin the series with beautiful dreams but, by the end of episode one, their dreams have been knocked aside and they’re now set off on a completely different path.

“They’re all struggling with the role of women in society. All of them are working women, but there’s a lack of financial freedom. At the time they couldn’t get a mortgage, they couldn’t own a chequebook or have a bank account in their name. For each of them there’s a real struggle between their need for independence and the trap that society has kept them in.”

Apart from Waters, the writing team was all female (Sarah Bassiuoni, Joan Sauers, Randa Sayed) with Sarah and Randa’s Arabic backgrounds helping to ensure the authenticity of the Lebanese family story.

“It’s exciting to have female writers from diverse backgrounds, creating a diverse and very female-focused story,” Waters said.

Director Gracie Otto

“The story is still relevant for audiences today,” said Otto. “People of my mother’s generation can remember those times and for women of my generation and younger, it’s interesting to imagine how few rights women had and to put yourself in that world which is really not so long ago. It’s a great history lesson but it’s also an amazing, fun world with great characters.

“Magda and Ambrose, our older characters, have experienced life as a woman in the 40s and 50s and change is challenging for them. Our young girls Claire and Lisa have so many opportunities ahead of them, whereas Fay, who is in her 30s, is just on the cusp of maybe missing the boat of that change. It’s amazing for me to think how a few years could make such a difference to their lives.”

New characters added for TV series

While some of the original characters from the book and film feature in the series, there are bunch of new characters reflecting Australia’s changing demographic. The character of Angela (Azizi Donnelly), an aspiring fashion designer, is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants and tailors. Mrs Ambrose, played by Miranda Otto, is another new character. She’s just arrived from Harrods. There are gay characters, including a store manager and a window dresser.

Producer Angela Littlejohn said: “The series is very fresh in terms of the new immigrant stories, and especially the female stories. It’s all about family and food and friendship.”

Creating the World of Ladies in Black

The creative team also includes cinematographer Simon Ozolins, whose credits include Deadloch and Heatbreak High, production designer Michael Rumpf (In Limbo, The Bureau of Magical Things), costume designer Marion Boyce (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) and John Logue as makeup and hair designer (Mystery Road, The Newsreader, Australia).

Otto commented: “It’s such an interesting period for television and I was really inspired by shows like The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel and Madmen. The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel finished in 1959 but, obviously it is set in New York and they were more advanced in a lot of things then we were in Australia.”

While set in Sydney, the series was filmed at multiple locations in and around Adelaide which has retained so many more of its heritage buildings than Sydney. The interior of Goodes was a set created by Michael Rumpf and his team at the Adelaide Film Studios. It is the largest set ever built at the studios.

Rumpf used down visual references to department stores from the period from around the world to inspire his design. Australian stores included David Jones, Myer, Foys, Harris Scarf, John Martins and Georges.

About the frocks

Costume designer Marion Boyce said: “I feel very at home in department stores. I’ve spent many hours in department stores, ever since I was a very little child. I have always found high end fashion intoxicating. This is a period I’ve collected for a long period of time, so it was very exciting to use some of my treasures.”

While much of the wardrobe comes from Marion’s collection, she was also in the US just before she started work on the show and bought swathes of fabric there and she also discovered that Adelaide is an extraordinary source of vintage clothes.

Magda (Debi Mazar), Don Holloway (Peter O’Brien) and models in Ladies in Black

“The generosity of people in Adelaide is truly remarkable. The 60s era is now 60 years old, but, for some reason, Adelaide kept a lot of its treasures and kept them intact. In the period where our show is set, women were still wearing frocks below the knee. But people used to wear their clothes for longer and I mostly find that original early 60s dresses were later cut and shortened, making them unusable for a mid-60s period drama. But that wasn’t the case in Adelaide – which was an extraordinary place to shop.”

Several character looks evolved from a hat, including a feathered construction worn by Magda, donated to legendary Australian production company Crawford Productions decades ago. It belonged to a woman whose family owned Melbourne’s historic Princess Theatre.

Marion’s costumes were highlighted by the work of makeup and hair designer John Logue’s work, including several wigs that helped create the looks of Magda, Ambrose, Fay and others.

Ladies in Black Episode Guide

(Beware of spoilers)

EPISODE 1: Beautiful Dream

It’s 1961. Magda’s beautiful dream of transforming Australian women’s fashion is about to be crushed by her husband’s foolish mistake. Without consultation, Stefan has lent money to their friend Rudi. It proves a costly error. Trapped at Goodes she must fight against entrenched conservatism and snobbery to rise from the bottom once again. Her newest antagonist, Mrs Ambrose has just arrived from Harrods and is determined to save the store from adventurous designers and working women. Caught between the two is newlywed Fay, whose plans of starting a family are put on hold by her husband Rudi’s financial risk-taking. Fay faces hard choices about motherhood and career that didn’t figure in her dreams of marriage. The failed loan comes between Fay and Magda when they most need each other’s support.

Magda (Debi Mazar), Elias (Julian Maroun) in Ladies in Black Episode 1

EPISODE 2: Secret Designs

Angela Mansour has got herself into trouble. Claiming to be part of an established retailing family seemed a perfect cover for stealing the look-book of Goodes upcoming designs. Her performance was too good. Goodes offered her a dream job in fashion. Now she must clean up her mess, return the book and hope no one ever discovers her real family business is selling knock-off Goodes designs. Lisa is much too preoccupied with her ‘lost’ night in the bed of her dream man Richard. If only she could remember what happened. Having been unintentionally humiliated by Angela, Lisa resists her overtures of friendship, even though a confidante is exactly what she most needs.

Magda and Mrs Ambrose battle over hierarchy, customers and the direction of Goodes. Mrs Ambrose recruits allies and makes herself indispensable to the senior executives of Goodes. While Magda is distracted by Stefan’s shocking revelation that George, his long-hidden son by a previous marriage, is now in Sydney.

Angela (Azizi Donnelly) in Ladies in Black Episode 2

EPISODE 3: Bikini Wars

Preparation for the Goodes Summer Catalogue brings tensions between Magda and Mrs Ambrose to boiling point. Magda’s is convinced that a vibrant and youthful direction is needed to save the store. Mrs Ambrose and her co-conspirator, Mackenzie are confident they can use Magda’s over-reach to have her sacked. They put the wheels in motion.

Fay becomes the reluctant confidante of a beautiful model, who unloads about her affair with a married man. The unwanted revelations increasingly point towards Rudi being unfaithful. When Marlow emerges as Rudi’s new business partner, Fay finds herself beset by uncertainty. Who can she trust? The husband who is betraying her, or the ex-lover who has lied before.

Lisa’s determination to be published by her university crush, Richard, sees her caught with her hands in the bikini jar. The price of Fay’s silence is Lisa taking Magda’s step-son, George to a ‘Bikini Wars’ photoshoot. Angela is a surprise addition to the outing once she learns that George is the hot pianist who has recently serenaded her. Lisa’s embarrassment at the hands of the ‘in crowd’ brings Angela and George to her defence, sparking an attraction between them.

Magda (Debi Mazar), Lisa (Clare Hughes) in Ladies in Black Episode 3

EPISODE 4: Spring Carnival

Magda experiments with a new range of clothing for ‘Young Sophisticates’. Mrs Ambrose is determined to sabotage it, before the crowds of ‘working girls’ can impact on her wealthy wives buying big for racing season. At Magda’s suggestion Lisa and Angela wear young, sophisticated outfits on the town. Lisa challenges her mousy reputation by springing a surprise revelation the university crowd – to pleasing effect. Lisa is winning the respect and possibly more of her ‘crush’, Richard. Angela’s good intentions melt away as she and George become more deeply involved. Lisa and Angela’s friendship faces a huge test when Magda’s plan to uncover the Goodes design thief confronts Lisa with a very uncomfortable truth.

Mrs Ambrose helps young and ambitious Adam move from loading dock to the sales floor, but the price she extracts may drive a wedge between Adam and Elias. Facing eviction, Elias finds a home with Lisa and a new soulmate in Lisa’s mother Dorothy. But is Lisa ready for a friendship between her staid mother and her flamboyant colleague?

With Rudi increasingly ‘working late’ with frozen foods, Fay reconnects with old friends from her dancing days. The ever-closer business relationship between Rudi and Marlow throws her off balance, especially when she and Rudi are offered the keys to the corporate kingdom by Marlow. A swanky dinner leads to awkward overtures from both Marlow and his wife. When Fay joins with Mrs Ambrose’ clandestine operation at the Spring Carnival, events lead her to a catastrophic error with awful implications.

Virginia Ambrose (Miranda Otto), Fay (Jessica de Gouw) in Ladies in Black Episode 4

EPISODE 5: Men in Briefs

Fay struggles to keep her secret while repairing the damage of her terrible mistake, but Marlow offers her a deal with the devil – he will ensure the success of Rudi’s business but only if Fay reignites their affair. Fay is trapped between Marlow and Rudi and an awful truth that could destroy everything she loves. How can she do what is best, when she doesn’t know what that is?

Magda invites Stefan to move home, and he offers her a way to recover her dream of her own boutique. However, George remains unresolved. Having burnt his bridges with Fay and on thin ice with Angela, he has no choice but to accept humiliation from Magda. Admitting vulnerability may be his first step to reconciliation.

Determined to capitalise on her success with a celebrity wedding dress, Magda plans a promotion that will challenge the traditional image of Goodes. Her praise for Angela’s contribution to the wedding dress design blinds Angela to the growing risk her divided loyalties will be exposed. Lisa and Angela paper over the cracks in their friendship by going all in with Magda’s plans. Lisa also sees a chance to win points with Richard, and get her first story published, but in the messy cross-over between sex and ambition it is unclear who is taking advantage of whom. The line between adventurous new direction and destroying Goodes reputation also proves to be treacherous. The subterranean split within the store forces friends, including Elias and Adam, apart. Although the launch of the male bikini brief seems a success at first, it precipitates a series of revelations that splits the ladies in black irrevocably and sees one of them sacked.

EPISODE 6: New Season

Bitter over her sacking, Angela succumbs to family pressure and agrees to recreate Goodes most exclusive design for her sister-in-law’s wedding dress. With her mother back from Beirut and the family full steam ahead on wedding preparations, Angela has to lie about catching up with Lisa in order to find time and space to continue her affair with George. When Lisa finally discovers them together, her revelation of George’s behaviour at Fay’s forces George to confront the necessity of sorting out his relationship with Stefan before he can offer love to anyone else. Lisa’s intertwined personal and professional relationship with Richard is full steam ahead, but be careful what you wish for. Richard’s plans for the future aren’t exactly aligned to Lisa’s big dreams.

Utterly routed by Mrs Ambrose, Magda’s last days at Goodes are spent planning an exclusive showing of Ambrose’ favoured designs and planning for her new boutique. Angela is stunned when Magda suggests that they might work together on a new Australian range. The clothes created by Angela and her family come into their own when Mrs Ambrose is convinced to change tack and offer Magda a chance to win back her place at Goodes.

Fay’s desperate attempt to enlist Mrs Marlow fails, but opens the door to Mrs Ambrose, who encourages Fay to rely on the truth to save her marriage. Will Fay break her husband’s heart in order to ease her conscience?

When Lisa and Angela find themselves out of their depth emotionally, both girls’ mothers must intervene to clarify the implications of becoming too dependent upon others. Strengthened by the triumph of an exclusive showing that combines the visions of Ambrose, Magda and Angela, Angela and Lisa make hard decisions that will keep their dreams alive.

Magda (Debi Mazar), Fay (Jessica de Gouw) in Ladies in Black, Episode 5

Ladies in Black Cast

Cast list with career highlights

Lead trio: Debi Mazar (Younger, Entourage), Miranda Otto (The Clearing, Talk To Me) and Jessica De Gouw (The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson, The Secret She Keeps).

Supporting cast: Kate Box (Deadloch, Wentworth), 2022 NIDA graduate Clare Hughes, Azizi Donnelly (Secret Society of Lies), Julian Maroun (Aftertaste), Carlos Sanson Jr (Bump), Tom Wilson (Heartbreak High), Sacha Horler (The Letdown), Huw Higginson (Total Control), Russell Dykstra (Rake), Thom Green (Of an Age), Hamish Michael (The Twelve), Krew Boylan (Simply Red), Ngali Shaw (The Twelve), Hazem Shammas (The Clearing), Peter O’Brien (Tidelands), Gemma Ward (While The Men Are Away) and Todd McKenney (Significant Others).

Who’s Who in Ladies in Black

Magda Szombathelyi (Debi Mazar)

Debi Mazar (Magda) in Ladies in Black

Polish-born Magda grew up in the sophisticated, cosmopolitan bourgeoisie destroyed by WWII. Fluent in multiple languages and accomplished in music, arts, design and fashion, Magda’s position as the doyenne of Sydney’s elite ladies rests on her old-world glamour and exquisite taste. Magda’s unique life experience has made her resilient, but also flexible and adaptable. Magda sees the coming 1960s as a revolution in role of women and the way they dress. The women of the sixties will be independent, they will work, they will dress for themselves not to please fathers or find husbands. Magda believes that young women and working women have the same right to beautiful, high- quality fashion as the trophy wives of the eastern suburbs. On the brink of realising the dream of her own boutique, Magda’s ever-reliable husband Stefan makes a foolish investment, and Magda is trapped at Goodes. Worse, Stefan reveals a long-hidden secret son from an earlier marriage who crashes into their lives. Magda must work her way up once again while questioning everything she has come to rely on in life.

Debi Mazar on her character Magda

“I’ve chosen to make Magda from Poland. In the script, she says ‘I’ve had so many losses’, so I created a back story for her. She is now married to Stefan, who is Hungarian, but I imagine that she might have been married to someone who was Jewish at one point, and I feel that she lost a baby. She came from a good family, she’s very educated. But Magda’s life has not been easy.

“She’s now in her 50’s, in Australia, and her dream has always been to have her own boutique, her own business. She is someone who sees the future of fashion. At this point, when she comes into Goodes department store, she begins a job that is very nice for her. It’s a safe place and it’s a very well-respected department store but it’s held back in time. I equate it to the McCarthy era in the United States, which is where I grew up, where women were wearing poodle skirts, everything was bound by bras and tightness and structured in a way that can be quite matronly. My grandmother would wear gloves and stockings, and it was all lovely and feminine, but at a certain point, as we moved into the early to mid-60s, I remember my mother going from wearing those sort of matronly shift dresses, to all of a sudden, she had a breakout and was wearing jeans with peace signs and suede boots and no bra.

“Magda has been through World War II, she’s arrived in Sydney, and there’s the hope of newness. But at Goodes she’s surrounded by all these stuffy men controlling the way things are, as a woman she cannot sign her own lease for the boutique that she wants, and she can’t even have her own bank account. So, we meet Magda at a really big time of change in the world in general. Women were no longer going to stay in the kitchen and just cook and pump out babies. Her dream is to have her own shop which celebrates women and changes the way that people see fashion in Australia. She is quite fashion forward. She has got great ideas. She has the vision.

“Australia wasn’t ever at the top of my list of countries that I needed to come to first, but I read the script and Greg and the writers have written an incredible series. I really love the character. I related to Magda a lot because my grandmother was from Riga, in Latvia, from a good family, and she married a Jewish man. But because he was Jewish, and it was wartime, he had to escape. She stayed but then her country was occupied. My grandmother went through a lot of similar things as Magda.

“When I had my first call with Marian, our costume designer, it was incredible because she had been buying fabrics from a place that I used to shop in called International Silks and Woollens, in Beverly Hills. Marion was shopping from all over the world to find vintage and the right pieces and when she showed me what I was going to wear, it was the exact vision that I had for Magda.”

About Debi Mazar

Debi Mazar is well known for her roles in the likes of Goodfellas, Batman Forever and Entourage and is based in Italy. She co-starred in Darren Starr’s series Younger. Recent releases include The Pentaverate (Netflix), The Kill Room and the upcoming Kaos.

Miranda Otto (Mrs Ambrose)

Virginia Ambrose (Miranda Otto) in Ladies in Black

Hired from Harrods of London to replace Magda in Model Gowns, Virginia refers constantly, if obliquely, to the duchesses she has dressed, as if she were born to ducal estates and great houses. She was not. Only by deception and sheer force of will was Virginia able to scramble into a career in retail, clambering from cleaner, to stockroom, to sales assistant to a senior role in the most exclusive departments of Harrods. She changed her accent, her walk, her history and her class, preferring to embrace the hauteur of a fallen aristocrat rather than the reality of an arriviste on the make. Virginia attempts to forge a new life in Sydney, but she is stuck with all her old tools, snobbery, guile, rigidity, contempt and a devotion to managing up that comes from a place of terrible fear. Mrs Ambrose has a secret that has followed her from London and could threaten her place as the high priestess to Sydney’s most fashionable women. Virginia Ambrose may be a fearsome martinet, but customer service in Australia is genuinely abysmal, and Virginia is a true believer in her career. The junior colleagues who disparage her will learn a lot from Virginia including the fact that there is a warm heart beneath her icy glare.

Miranda Otto on her character Mrs Ambrose

“Virginia Ambrose or Mrs. Ambrose, as she likes to be called, comes into the story as the antagonist. She provokes a lot of things in the department. As a character Virginia is like one of those presents where it’s a box, within a box, within a box, you keep opening one thing, and then there’s something else inside. When I read the character, I thought there were so many little surprises that kept opening up. She asserts herself in a certain way and you think that she’s one particular thing. But then you discover there’s a lot more to Virginia; she’s quite mysterious, in some ways.

“I loved the movie, Ladies in Black, and I loved the book. I loved the idea of the public and the private lives of a group of people who worked in a department store, and particularly the relationships between the different women, and a time where we were on the of eve of social change. And then, when I read the scripts, I just loved the characters and the opportunity to pay homage to that era of the department store when it was such an aspirational place and where service was impeccable. People went for the special experience of going to a very beautiful store. It’s something that, in this day and age of online shopping, is being lost.”

“Mrs Ambrose arrives from London ready to assert herself – to put her stamp on Goodes and feels that she’s a valuable contributor to the aesthetics of the store. She very much comes from a service point of view – understanding the customer’s full needs very much from the angle of class and discretion and taste. Whereas Magda’s view of fashion is about self-expression and revolution and joy and so they butt heads over that. It takes them a while to learn to be in the same space.

“It has been excellent to work with Gracie again; not only because I think Gracie is fantastic – and obviously she’s my sister – but also because of the shorthand that you have working with someone that you’ve worked with before. We worked together for the first time on The Clearing. I think she’s done just such an awesome job with Ladies in Black. She brings an awesome energy to the set. You kind of tell that Gracie has played a lot of sport because she understands the team; she inspires the team and keeps the team’s energy going. She keeps that energy flow through the day and always comes to set with a strong plan and a strong method of attack, but then is also being able to rally in different ways when things change, as they often do on set. I think is an enormous strength of Gracie’s.”

About Miranda Otto

Miranda Otto has a career spanning decades across the stage and screen. Miranda’s feature film credits include The Thin Red Line, What Lies Beneath, War of the Worlds, Flight of the Phoenix, The Homesman, Love Serenade, Reaching for the Moon and her portrayal of Éowyn in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Miranda’s performance in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King earned her a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. In 2016, Miranda was awarded the AACTA Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Daughter, opposite Sam Neill and Geoffrey Rush. In 2020, she was seen opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in Fox Searchlight’s Downhill.

Highlights of Miranda’s television credits include the roles of Allison Carr in Showtime and Fox 21’s Emmy Award-winning series Homeland and Aunt Zelda in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

For her performance as Lindy Chamberlain in the drama series Through My Eyes, she was awarded the TV Week Silver Logie Award for Most Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series.

Miranda has also worked extensively in theatre, including a memorable role in the Sydney Theatre Company’s Boy Gets Girl. Her performance as Nora in the production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, also with Sydney Theatre Company, won her the 2003 Mo Award for Female Actor in Play of the Year.

Miranda enjoyed a return home to star in critically acclaimed ABC drama series, Fires and Australian comedy drama series The Unusual Suspects. Most recently, she starred alongside Celeste Barber in Netflix comedy series Wellmania and can be seen in Disney+ /HULU’s psychological thriller, The Clearing opposite Guy Pearce and Teresa Palmer. Miranda can next be seen on television in upcoming television series Thou Shalt Not Steal.

Otto reunited with Sam Neill and stars alongside Christoph Waltz in in The Jim Henson Company fantasy adventure film, The Portable Door, as well as Danny and Michael Philippo’s Australian horror film, Talk to Me which premiered at Sundance Film Festival.

Fay Janosi née Baines (Jessica De Gouw)

Fay (Jessica de Gouw) in Ladies in Black

Fay grew up poor but pretty in Sydney’s down-at-heel inner city. She got a taste of the spotlight as a Tivoli dancer, and a taste for fun as a ‘kept woman’ for a discreet businessman. When he disappeared ‘to Perth’, Fay reinvented herself as a sales assistant at Goodes. After a whirlwind romance, she was swept into marriage with Hungarian man on the rise, Rudi Janosi. Fay is struggling to find her sea legs as a wife and potential mother. Loving as Rudi is, he takes his role as Pygmalion to his ‘healthy Aussie bride’ a bit too seriously. His helpful suggestions can feel like judgement. Fay genuinely wishes she could throw herself into love and family. But she has been burnt before and knows what it is like to be hungry in a house full of misery. Fay has a natural poise and grace, polished by working with customers in the most exclusive department in elegant Goodes, but there is a strain of sadness and insecurity that she struggles to overcome. When Rudi’s ambition and over – confidence create financial difficulty for his own family, and his friends Stefan and Magda, Fay must face the dilemma of whether to have children when her marriage is suddenly uncertain.

Jessica De Gouw on her character Fay

“Fay is so many things! She comes from a slightly different past and history to the other women. And she treads the line between Magda and Virginia and then Lisa and Angela – she’s somewhere in the middle in terms of her age and her experience. She’s a fascinating character because she is, in one sense, very empowered and capable in the Goode’s department store. But then, at the same time, she’s starting out this life as a newly married woman and none of its quite fitting right. She’s madly in love with her husband but struggling in the domestic sphere and struggling with the expectations of being a wife in 1961. She’s a wonderful contradiction of a woman.

“I wanted to be part of Ladies in Black because I felt that, with Bunya and the ABC, we had very safe and capable hands telling the story and I also knew that they would do something fresh and exciting, and they would make it relevant. I don’t think there’s any need to revisit a story unless you’re doing something fresh and challenging and relevant. The scripts were beautiful with beautiful character journeys, which is always very exciting as an actor. And then also the fact that it was a very, very female show between the characters and Gracie and the producers.

“Fay’s look is wonderfully different to my own. Very early on I was having conversations with John Logue, our hair and makeup designer, about what Fay could look like and he was very collaborative. We were throwing images and references back and forth to each other – and decided that Fay might be a redhead and that we could create something interesting that spoke to her point of difference. Fay is someone who had another life before Goode’s. She worked at the Trocadero; she was somewhat more risqué than the women she’s now surrounded by, so we wanted to give her that edge, that sense of her history and her spiciness.”

About Jessica De Gouw

Jessica recently completed the Netflix feature film The Union alongside Mark Wallberg, Halle Berry and JK Simmons. Her other recent feature films include The Portable Door produced by the The Jim Henson Company, directed by Jeffrey Walker and starring Sam Neil and Christoph Waltz, and The Drover’s Wife which had its international premiere at SXSW, starring alongside Sam Reid and Leah Purcell, who also directed. Prior to that Jessica starred opposite Laura Carmichael in two series of BBC One and Paramount+ hit drama The Secrets She Keeps, an adaptation of Michael Robotham’s bestselling novel, and in the DC Comics and Epix series Pennyworth.

Jessica’s prior film credits include Otherlife directed by Ben C Lucas, These Final Hours written and directed by Zak Hilditch, The Rezort opposite Dougray Scott and directed by Steve Barker, Cut Snake opposite Alex Russell and Sullivan Stapleton for director Tony Ayres, and Gretel and Hansel alongside Sophia Lillis and Alice Krige and directed by Oz Perkins.

Jessica’s most recent television series include The Artful Dodger for Hulu and The Couple Next Door playing opposite Sam Heughan. Previous television credits include a leading role alongside Ewen Leslie and James Cromwell in the award-winning ABC mini-series Operation Buffalo, series 3 of The Crown for Netflix, BBC 2 series Vienna Blood opposite Matthew Beard, and in 4-part SBS series The Hunting with Sam Reid, Richard Roxburgh, Pamela Rabe and Asher Keddie.

Previously Jessica appeared in acclaimed ABC telemovie RIOT alongside Damon Herriman, and two seasons of the award-winning WGN series Underground executive produced by Akiva Goldsman and John Legend. The show broke records as the most-watched program on the network. She played a recurring role in Billy Ray’s Amazon series The Last Tycoon opposite Matt Bomer, Lily Collins and Kelsey Grammer, and played The Huntress in Greg Berlanti’s popular CW series Arrow. Earlier she starred in miniseries Deadline Gallipoli alongside Sam Worthington for Foxtel and was the co-lead opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Dracula for NBC. Her earlier Australian TV credits include The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, Tricky Business, Crownies and Underbelly.

Jessica is currently filming The Survivors which will be globally released on Netflix.

Lisa Miles (Clare Hughes)

Lisa (Clare Hughes) in Ladies in Black

Lisa believes she is transforming herself from mousy suburban schoolgirl, to a star of Sydney University’s intellectual elite. Unfortunately, the leading lights of student life barely notice her, and if she does draw attention to herself, dismiss her as ‘the Bexley virgin’. Lisa knows she has a talent as a writer. But talent is not enough, the boys club who run SUDS and Honi Soit and even more importantly the libertarian booth at the pub, only notice girls who are pretty and precocious and who ‘put out’. And if having sex with a campus lion is the price of a ‘big life’ then what’s the catch? Just as Lisa gets her first foot in the door of the student newspaper, she is knocked sideways by the death of her father and adds poor and part-time to the impediments to her glittering ambitions. Goodes becomes her haven, for as many shifts as she can manage. Lisa is smart and warm and a passionate friend. She is intellectually curious, adventurous and bursting with idealism. But she is also so naive that she doesn’t even know how much she doesn’t know until her inexperience gets her into trouble. Still trouble can feel a lot like adventure up until the moment you crash. Although the day will come when Lisa will be a singular even stubborn personality, right now she is a moth to a flame falling under the spell of Magda, then Angela, then Richard seeking herself in the approval and imitation of others.

Claire Hughes on her character Lisa

“I’m a bit of a history nerd, so anything where I get to immerse myself in a world that’s very different in terms of the costumes and the hair and makeup is really fun. And the scripts are amazing with such incredible female roles. Lisa is a treat.

“Lisa is 18 and she is working part time at Goodes on the weekends, while studying at Sydney University. She has ambitions to become a writer and she’s desperately trying to get her articles published in the student newspaper – and she has a lot going on at home. She’s trying to balance all of that and work out who she is. She’s discovering boys and sex and drinking which is all very new to her.

“Once Lisa sets her mind on something, she’ll gun for it. She’s very curious about boys and love and decides that Richard, the editor of Honi Soit, is the right one for her – I think she falls in love with the idea of him.

“She’s writing about the pill and has a lot of feminists ideals in her head, but she’s constantly coming up against ‘the boys’ telling her what to do. I do admire that she puts them in their place.

“Her work clothes are vastly different to what she wears outside of Goodes. She’s definitely going for the beatnik look. She’s being the alternative writer of her dreams; she’s really into French cinema. She finds her style as we progress through the series – she starts wearing pants, which was unusual for women at the time, and they make her feel empowered.”

Angela Mansour (Azizi Donnelly)

Angela (Azizi Donnelly) in Ladies in Black

Born in Australia into a Lebanese family, Angela grew up in the small community of Arabic-speaking rag-traders and restaurateurs in Redfern. Fashion has been the family business for generations but Angela’s dreams reach far beyond copying European fashions from out-of-date magazines. Angela is bursting with vision for her own original designs, but the idea of an Australian fashion designer is outlandish, that she might be young and female is preposterous, and that she might be a working class, bi-lingual immigrant is so unthinkable that Angela cannot even articulate the ambition herself. Her intense closeness to her family is a joy and a burden. Their admiration and dependence on her gives her strength. But the demands on her time, energy and emotion are constant, and feel like they could become a road-block to her future success. Especially as her brother is about to marry a bridezilla, and her parent’s marriage may be splitting between their dual cultures. Angela is warm, sensual and open-hearted. But she has also absorbed her family’s culture of sexual rectitude and monogamy into her bones. The idea of dating without her family’s approval is anathema. Angela is quick-witted, and silver-tongued. But that tongue can be razor sharp when she loses her (fiery) temper. She can be sly and shrewd and willing to take risks. But she is also generous, thoughtful and loyal. Although young, Angela has a very clear idea of who she is, and is not about to be pushed around by friend, foe or boyfriend.

Azizi Donnelly on her character Angela

“What made me want to be a part of Ladies in Black is that I’ve always wanted to do a period piece. I’m obsessed with the 60s and 70s and I have a lot of similarities with Angela Mansour. My mum was a fashion designer back in the day and we’re Lebanese Australian. I was also very excited to work with Gracie Otto.

“Angela is a 22-year-old Lebanese girl born in Australia. She’s a fiery, passionate and ambitious young girl. She moves between the world of Goodes and the world of the Mansour family, and her story is about discovering herself and going after her ambitions and dreams as a fashion designer.

“Angela’s very different in each of those worlds, which was fun to play. When she’s at home with her family, they are very passionate, very expressive people; but at Goodes she’s trying to fit in. Angela feels constrained by society’s expectations. She doesn’t really have any role models to look up to in terms of what she desires being an original fashion designer. So she’s breaking a boundary; she’s doing something that hasn’t been done in her family or in her culture in Australia. So she has to be to go after that dream.”

About Azizi Donnelly

Azizi Frances Donnelly was born in Paddington, Sydney, Australia to her Lebanese mother and Irish father. Azizi comes from a family of four children, having three brothers, all younger.

Azizi graduated high school in Australia where she was raised by her mother, a fashion designer. Azizi spent much of her younger years with her Lebanese grandparents in Annandale, a small suburb in the inner west of Sydney. In her late teens Azizi took on acting, majoring in drama at her high school and participating in summer programs at the Australian Theatre for Young People. At 18 Azizi moved herself to New York City to expand her opportunities in film and television.

Azizi’s most recent work can be seen in films and television shows such as Secret Society of Lies and Lifetime TV.

Ladies in Black: The key creatives

Sophia Zachariou – Producer

Sophia Zachariou is producer and until recently co-managing director of Bunya Entertainment. The company is part of the Bunya Media Group and was set up by Sophia Zachariou, Greer Simpkin and David Jowsey as co-managing directors to focus on commercially driven screen projects for a global audience.

Through Bunya Entertainment, Sophia produced the 2021 six-part comedy series The Moth Effect for Amazon Prime Originals. The series was nominated for Best Comedy at the 2020 AACTA Awards.

In 2023, Sophia produced the international comedy format The Office Australia, starring Felicity Ward. The Office Australia is the company’s second commission, alongside BBC Studios with Amazon Originals and will screen on Prime Video in 2024.

Prior to creating Bunya Entertainment, Sophia was the Create NSW Director of Screen Investment, Engagement and Attraction leading the screen program for NSW for a number of years. During her time at the agency, Sophia oversaw the commissioning of award-winning productions such as Warwick Thornton’s, Sweet Country, Rachel Perkins’ Mystery Road, Nash Edgerton’s Mr Inbetween and Jeffrey Walker’s Riot.

Angela Littlejohn – Producer

Angela is a screen producer and executive who has worked in the film and TV industry for the past 30 years in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. She worked as Drama Co-Production Executive and Programme Finance Manager for Channel 4 drama and Film4 and oversaw productions including Trainspotting, Secrets and Lies, Velvet Goldmine, Queer as Folk, Longitude and Sword of Honour.

Her TV producing credits include Cleverman Season 1 & 2. She co-produced Channel 4’s BAFTA winning Not Only But Always starring Rhys Ifans and was Series Producer on Pukeko Picture’s pre-school animation TV series Kiddets, the first NZ/China official TV co-production.

In 2019 she joined Bunya Productions and produced Ivan Sen’s Loveland, and Leah Purcell’s The Drovers Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson, alongside Greer Simpkin and David Jowsey. She returned to NZ in 2020 and produced feature films, Matthew J Saville’s Juniper (starring Charlotte Rampling) and Michelle Savill’s Millie Lies Low.

Her recent TV credits include 6-part comedy drama series In Limbo for the ABC. She is currently in production on a Studio Canal film, Kangaroo, directed by Kate Wood.

Greer Simpkin – Producer

Greer Simpkin is co-managing director of the Bunya Media Group. Since joining Bunya, Greer has produced the award-winning feature films Limbo, Sweet Country, Goldstone, High Ground, Loveland, The Drover’s Wife – The Legend of Molly Johnson and was an executive producer on Jasper Jones. Greer is currently producing Rebel Wilson’s debut feature The Deb and the Studio Canal feature Kangaroo.

Greer has produced all three series of award-winning television drama series Mystery Road as well as the SBS mini-series True Colours and the ABC comedy In Limbo.

David Jowsey – Producer

In 2008, David Jowsey formed BUNYA Productions with auteur filmmaker Ivan Sen. David produced Toomelah by Ivan Sen, selected in Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2011. David produced the 2011 Sundance selected feature Mad Bastards by Brendan Fletcher and Satellite Boy by Catriona McKenzie which premiered at Toronto 2012 and Berlin 2013. David produced Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road film which received a Special Presentation at Toronto 2013. In 2015 David produced Jasper Jones, based on the best-selling novel and directed by Rachel Perkins, as well as Ivan Sen’s Goldstone which premiered in Toronto’s 2016 Platfom Section. David Jowsey produced Sweet Country by Warwick Thornton, which won the Special Jury Prize at Venice 2017 and the Platform Prize at Toronto 2017. In 2018 David produced the award-winning series Mystery Road. David produced High Ground in 2019 which premiered at Berlin. Across 2019/20 he produced Mystery Road Series 2 which premiered in Berlin Series, as well as the features Loveland by Ivan Sen and The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson by Leah Purcell which premiered at SXSW.

Gracie Otto – Director

Gracie was set-up director on the reboot of Netflix’s Top 10 series Heartbreak High which won an International Emmy for Best Kids: Live-Action Series and she was nominated for an AACTA Award for Best Direction in Drama or Comedy in 2022. She set up season two of the series.

Gracie has directed on the Disney+ series The Artful Dodger starring David Thewlis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster. Prior to this she directed The Clearing for Disney + starring Teresa Palmer, Miranda Otto and Guy Pearce and Deadloch, a feminist noir comedy, for Amazon Studios.

Greg Waters – Writer/Script Producer

Greg was a writer and script producer on The Twelve for Easy Tiger, Warner and Foxtel. Greg wrote for New Gold Mountain (Goalpost and SBS) and shared the AWGIE for best mini-series. He also wrote award-winning telemovie Riot (Werner Film Productions and ABC) and was nominated for an AWGIE and the NSW Premiers Literary Award. Riot won the AACTA for best mini-series or telefeature.

Greg has written and script produced Secret City (Matchbox and Foxtel), The New Legends of Monkey (See Saw and Netflix). He was script producer of The Letdown (Giant Dwarf and ABC), The Other Guy (Aquarius and Stan). He was the executive producer of Soul Mates and series producer of Soul Mates II (Van Vuuren Bros, ABC, SeeSo).

Production credits

A Bunya Entertainment production.

Major production investment from the ABC, South Australian Film Corporation and Screen Australia
Financed with support from Screen NSW
Producers: Sophia Zachariou, Angela Littlejohn, Greer Simpkin, David Jowsey
Executive Producers: Greg Waters, Sue Milliken, Allanah Zitserman
ABC Executive Producers: Rachel Okine & Louise Smith
Distributed by ABC Commercial

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