The Sapphires (2012) is based on the 2004 stage play of the same name, itself loosely based on a true story. The film is directed by Wayne Blair and co-written by Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs, who also wrote the play (another ‘fun fact’ about Briggs – his mother and aunt are two of the real-life “Sapphires”).
The year is 1968 and before we anything taking place on the screen, we are given a little historical context for what we will see over the next couple of hours. As someone who has always been fascinated by the plight of indigenous populations, I knew a little about the “Stolen Generation” – that is the Australian policy of taking fair-skinned Aborigines who could “pass” from their settlement homes and integrating them into white society. The next (startling) factoid to appear in black and white was that, until the 1970’s indigenous Australians were classified as part of Australia’s “flora and fauna.”
Set against the tumult of the war in Vietnam, the audience is witness to the journey taken by four young women of the – headstrong Gail (Deborah Mailman), bubbly Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), who has been away in “mainstream” Aussie society and Julie (Jessica Mauboy), the young one with the powerful voice. A chance encounter with Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) failed entertainer extraordinaire takes them from Melbourne to the Vietnamese war zone in a mixture of comedy, tense drama and of course, MUSIC.
In terms of the acting, Chris O’Dowd again proves his comedic/romantic leading man bona fides as the feckless manager who falls for one of the singers. I am not as familiar with many of the other performers, but they are all entertaining in their roles. The other standout for me is Jessica Mauboy, who is featured as Julie, the lead vocalist of The Sapphires; in fact, Ms. Mauboy is a known quantity in her native Australia, where she is a popular R&B singer. SIDE NOTE: she sure has some pipes on her.
Let it be known there is a lot going on here. As I mentioned at the open, the fun of this film is set alongside some serious topics – war, racial discrimination and the like. This is particularly evident in the parallel drawn between the plight of the indigenous population and African Americans half a world away (and in one pivotal scene, on the Vietnamese battlefield. On one hand, it connects to the thread of the essence of what soul music represents – the struggle and the triumph of the human condition.
However at times I felt it was more window-dressing and used as a means of driving the plot and interaction between a couple of the members of the group and less about informing the audience. For my part, I admired the effort, even if the execution was not 100% to my satisfaction.
In spite of these quibbles and although in places, the film fell victim to the conventional tropes one finds in similarly themed movies about the rise (and in this case) stall of a girl group, that does not detract from the wonderful I say WONDERFUL film I had the pleasure of seeing yesterday. It left me laughing, tapping my feet and in some instances, crying. It is all heart and soul.