It could be easy to start this review with a look back at the depressing themes that fill most Australian films. There is a place for films with dark themes but when Australian filmmakers step into the light, they shine, and The Sapphires has plenty of polish.
Set in 1968 and loosely based on a true story of four aboriginal women who form a signing group and are championed by a local musician to audition for a chance to entertain US troops in Vietnam.
The Sapphires is all about finding an identity and being proud of your heritage. The story plays against the turmoil of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement in America contrasted against the aboriginal community’s plight in Australia in the 60s. Change is in the air and director Wayne Blair manages to balance the serious subtext of the film with entertaining musical sequences that are kept to the stage rather than the spontaneous song and dance numbers of most musicals. The edgier side of Vietnam and the quality of life of Aboriginal Australians at the time are a little glossed over in favour of a lighter tone that echoes throughout the film, but the overwhelming feeling is a warm and fuzzy one. Warwick Thronton’s cinematography gives the film beautiful colourful glow that gives The Sapphires a mainstream look that matches the overall uplifting vibe.
Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell are wonderful playing the girl group. Chris O’Dowd is hilarious playing the bands manager but manages to also work through a few serious moments with strength. His chemistry with Mailman provides a nice romantic center for the film that’s really sweet.
The soundtrack of Motown and soul music sung by the group and buoyed by the powerful voice of Mauboy is a lot of fun with the help of singers Juanita Tippens and Jade MacRae who are the “unseen” Sapphires.
Like the music and the women it celebrates, The Sapphires has heart and soul and it’s great to see the story finally shared on the big screen.
[rating=3] and a half
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies
Directed: Wayne Blair
Written by: Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson
Starring: Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman and Jessica Mauboy
The Sapphires is released: 9 August Australia 2012 & 2 November 2012 UK