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The Sapphires

The Sapphires

Released 7 November 2012
Director Wayne Blair

Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, Tory Kittles, Eka Darville
Writer(s) Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson

Rosemary Blight, Kylie Du Fresne
Origin Australia
Running Time 103 minutes
Genre Comedy, drama, musical
Rating PG

Sweet soul music.

As time periods go, the late 1960s provides rich fruit for storytelling. The global civil rights movement, war in Vietnam and the death of the 1960s dream of peace, love and understanding make for an environment of unprecedented social and political upheaval. Several of these elements come neatly together in director Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires but a hard hitting drama it is not. Though it pays lip-service to racial and gender politics and jumps headlong into a warzone, it does so within a light frothy package, adorned with sparkly dresses and soul music.

The film begins in a small segregated Aboriginal community in rural Australia. The community is home to three sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), who sing together in a close harmonies trio. When performing at a local talent show, they are spotted by a charismatic and characteristically drunk Irish musician called Dave (Chris O’Dowd). Dave sees potential in the group and offers to manage them, reshaping them into a Supremes-like soul group. After recruiting fourth member Kay (Shari Sebbens), the group and their manager head to Vietnam to entertain the U.S. troops.

The Sapphires is based on a true story, adapted from a play by co-screenwriter Tony Briggs, the son of one of the sisters. Needless to say then, its heart is in the right place even if it is defiantly uncomplicated in the face of complicated content. The moral ambiguity of the war itself, not to mention the relevance of that moral ambiguity to people from an abused racial minority is something that never crops up between the spirited soul renditions. Instead, the film focuses on the newly found freedom of the girls and their relationships with each other. And this it does rather well - despite the Vietnam sequences, many of which don’t hit the mark in terms of emotion or realism, the performances are sparky enough to keep the energy up. Particularly good is Chris O’Dowd, his comic timing as an unlikely soul man providing most of the laughs here.

The Sapphires is a little too soft around the edges to be memorable but as a lighthearted musical comedy it hits more than it misses.

- Linda O’Brien