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By Phil Hall | July 25, 2013

Based on the classic 1951 novel by Dymphna Cusack and Florence James, this 1990 production for Australian television (which is only now receiving a U.S. DVD release) follows three employees of a posh Sydney beauty salon and their respective woes during World War II. Claire is dealing with her newly discovered pregnancy and a boyfriend who has yet to jettison his wife; Deb has an older lover who wants to marry her despite the fact she is a wife and mother; and Guinea is a free spirit who is bothered by a persistent ex-boyfriend.

The drama is overripe with tensions that permeated wartime Australia – the harsh division between the struggling working class and the privileged upper class, the tensions between Australian servicemen versus their boisterous Americans counterparts who occupy Sydney’s nightlife, the new assertiveness by women and the constant state of turmoil and loss created by a wartime atmosphere. However, this film lacks the power of the Cusack-James novel (which created major controversy in its day). The screenplay dilutes the book’s emotional maelstrom into a tepid swirl of soapy melodrama that is often too predictable for comfort. Even worse, the ensemble acting often comes across as facetious and insincere, as if the cast was playing the material as a tongue-in-cheek lark instead of a serious consideration of the moral climate of wartime Sydney.

As a result, it impossible to invest any degree of concern or sympathy into the various storylines and the dithering characters. To its credit, a handsome production design helps distract the viewer to the shortcomings of the script and acting, and hiccups of violence help to occasionally rouse the production from a state of total inertia.

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