The Sapphires

Thank God for Singapore Airlines! I saw the trailer for The Sapphiresin London, but as I was bemoaning in my last review (Trap for Cinderella) if a film doesn’t get enough bums on seats, it disappears without a trace. And so it was with The Sapphires. Puff! Gone…

And what a shame that would have been: The Sapphiresis one of the most enjoyable films I have seen this year – pure toe-tapping, eye-watering, sentimental, romantic pleasure, all rolled into one. Rare indeed.

Who cares if the plot is clichéd: four Aboriginal girls (three sisters and their cousin) overcome racism and bigotry in order to fulfill their ambition to escape the poverty and drudge of their day-to-day existence.  All blessed with superb singing voices, more usually put to good use in the Church choir, they stumble across charming, feckless drunk, Dave Lovelace (Bridesmaidsand the IT Crowd’sChris O’Dowd), who knows nothing much about anything apart from drinking and soul music; he sees an opportunity to make some money and soon has them winging their way to entertain the troops in Vietnam.

Little do they realise that by 1968 things were getting tough out there, and the girls’ naivety and innocence are soon put to the test; temptations such as romance and alcohol threaten to disrupt everything, and that’s before the dangers of the war itself. Some have carped that the Vietnam scenes are too ‘light’, but this is a film about character and survival and not a history lesson. I found the balance just about right – you understand how awful the war was, but at the same time it is the backdrop to the narrative, which we are, by now, totally addicted to.

The soundtrack, all Motown, really gets you jiving in your seat, and brings back the memories of the swinging 60s, when Diana Ross reigned supreme. The relatively unknown Jessica Mauboy as the youngest sister, Julia, has a wonderful voice, and the other three girls are no slouches either: the harmonies are divine. There are gutsy performances, too, from the main actors especially Deborah Mailman as grouchy Gail, the group’s ‘mother’ who fights for her flock like a tigress. The chemistry between her and Dave is convincing and heart-stopping at times.

A combination of Good Morning Vietnamand The Commitments, the film cleverly draws attention to some real issues, in particular those faced by the Aboriginal community. The shameful history of kidnapping Aboriginal children is touched upon; the racism not only shown by white Australians towards the Aborigines, but also by white soldiers towards their Black fellow GIs contribute some harrowing moments. 

Based on a true story and made all the more realistic due to one of the writers, Tony Briggs, being the son of one of the original Sapphires, the film has an authenticity derived from the whole production team being Aboriginal – not only the writer but also director Wayne Blair, choreographer and cinematographer.  As a result the scenes in the Aboriginal reserves have a light touch and are beautifully filmed; the family relationships are neither cardboard cut outs, nor patronising portrayals, but loving, gentle, humorous and, at times, emotional. 

Thank goodness these days even if a film is no longer on circuit you can download it or rent it. Catch this feel-good movie before you resort to seeing it on a plane like me!

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