The Sapphires opens with the shocking fact that until 1967, Australia’s indigenous population was not only denied citizenship, but also classified as “Flora and Fauna” rather than as humans. This is followed by a second title-card stating that until the 1970s, fair-skinned indigenous children were stolen from their homes to be raised by non-indigenous families. A third and final title-card states that this film is inspired by a true story.
The “true story” in question is that of three sisters and one of their friends growing up in a remote area in the mid-20th century.
While the rest of the world is also coping with strife and protests in the tumultuous year of 1968, in Australia the indigenous people are finally beginning to gain some rights, including the right to vote.
The girls — Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Kay (Shari Sebbens) and Gail (Deborah Mailman) — have always loved to sing together. With Julie deemed too young for just about everything by her mother and Kay having been taken from her family, it’s up to Cynthia and Gail to find musical success.
Venturing into town for a talent contest (and followed by Julie, who sneaks her way into town despite her mother’s wishes), they are discovered by a talent scout named Dave (Chris O’Dowd) who loves soul music. They win him over with their cover of a Merle Haggard song, but he doesn’t think they should be singing “cowboy music.”
He helps them book gigs, marketing them as the Australian version of The Supremes, and eventually leads them to Vietnam to sing for the American troops.
The Sapphires was directed by Wayne Blair, based on the play of the same name by Tony Briggs. Briggs wrote the play based on the experiences of his mother, Laurel Robinson, who was a member of an Aboriginal girl group.
I’d been hearing great things about this film for over a year when I finally got the chance to watch it, as it was added to Netflix Instant. I’m so glad I was able to discover The Sapphires, even if I was so late. What a wonderful film!
A story of determination, music, hope, prejudice, love and family is told through this on-screen singing group. The film is equal parts funny, charming and dramatic. The girls struggle a lot, both for power within the group and against the hatred of those who discriminate against them. They must also attempt to come to terms with the strife they’ve faced in the past.
The story itself is fascinating to watch, but the film wouldn’t be as effective without four such capable actresses filling the roles of the singers. They all give solid, believable performances that show off the distinct personalities of their characters.
Chris O’Dowd is great as well, as manager Dave Lovelace, a character who (unlike the singers) is not based on a real person. O’Dowd is very funny in his role but is also somewhat tragic. He’s got his own share of personal struggles that complicate his work with the group.
Good performances, a good story… and to top that off, the soundtrack to this film is great. Just as they proved themselves more than capable of carrying the film as actresses, the four girls starring as The Sapphires prove themselves as vocalists as well. The music is even more wonderful than I expected it to be, from the Merle Haggard cover to the Motown hits. There are a couple of songs included that were released later than the film is set, but I don’t even mind because the covers are so good.
Even though I’d heard so many good things about it before watching, The Sapphires exceeded my expectations. I would highly recommend it. The score: 5/5