Uplifting tale tackles tough issue

23:00, Oct 10 2012
SINGING WITH SOUL: From left, Deborah Mailman as Gail, Jessica Mauboy as Julie, Miranda Tapsell as Cynthia and Shari Sebbens as Kay in <I>The Sapphires.</I>

The Sapphires
PG, 1hr 43min
Reviewed by Peter Lampp.

Sapphires, despite a few minor flaws, is one of the more entertaining gems to hit Cinema Gold in recent months.

And for our brothers and sisters across the Tasman, maybe they will learn from their past misdeeds and keep apologising to the downtrodden Aboriginal people.

The film, adapted from a 2005 stage musical, went nuts at the box office on the opening weekend over there, so maybe there is an awakening. Or maybe people want to be entertained by their Aussie version of The Supremes singing well-recognised soul and Motown tunes.

The serious side is that it is a commentary on race relations in Australia between the 1950s and 1970s built around four Aussie songbirds who entertain the troops in the Vietnam War. The coloured brothers among the GIs, of course, loved them.

There are a few cackles thrown in, notably from the antics of Dave (Irish actor Chris O'Dowd). He stumbles on the four girls in the Outback while running a talent quest, essentially for whites only, and becomes their manager.


The girls might have black skin but they have something the dismissive whites don't, caramel voices. The scenes when the group forms are reminiscent of 2011 drama The Help, when the coiffured white women at their Tupperware parties shuddered at the thought of mixing with the non-whites.

All of this attains extra cred because it is based on what happened to four women who were on set when it was filmed in Australia, and Vietnam.

It is show business and I wondered if some of the scenes in Vietnam really happened, including an encounter with the Viet Cong. But it was a war zone and recreating it would have been an expensive piece of film-making.

While the singing is obviously dubbed, these women can sing in their own right. Two of them seem to have Maori or Pacific Island features, but no, research confirmed that all four are of Aboriginal descent.

Sometimes the script was trite and the delivery what you would expect from women who are singers first and actresses second.

But everyone departed from The Sapphires with smiles and an appreciation of the professionalism of O'Dowd. What is it about Irish actors? They can't miss with that brogue.

Would I see it again? Yep!

* Amazingly, The Way, about the historical pilgrimage across Spain, finished on Sunday after a run of 25 weeks. That is understood to be a record for Cinema Gold.

Manawatu Standard