The Sapphires

The Sapphires

(PG) Hopscotch DVD/BD/digital download

This engaging, warm-hearted Australian movie sparkles with energy and charm.

Set in the late ’60s and inspired by true events, it tells the story of four gutsy young female singers from Cummeragunja Aboriginal mission.

Sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) encounter genial, shambolic Irish muso Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) at a racist country town talent show. With Dave as mentor and manager, the girls — joined by talented sister Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Stolen Generation cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) — form a Supremes-style group and head off to Vietnam to entertain the US troops.

The film delivers a captivating blend of humour, romance and moving drama. Pulling it all together is the rousing and life-affirming glory that is soul music, including Motown gems such as “What a man”, “I heard it through the grapevine” and “I can’t help myself (sugar pie honey bunch)”.

The four Sapphires are well played, successfully emerging as distinctive characters. Mailman is excellent as the serious, responsible older sister and Tapsell is frequently hilarious as the diminutive, feisty man-eater.

Sebbens provides solid support and Mauboy’s powerhouse voice is showcased to fine effect. O’Dowd is both sensitive and deliciously droll as the likeable rogue Dave and his developing relationship with Gail is funny, authentic and tender.

The Sapphires doesn’t ignore the grim social and political realities of the era — war, pervasive racism and the desperate struggles of the civil rights movement — but these elements are woven into the narrative in a way that harmonises with the overall upbeat mood.

The film makes its points with a light touch: a chorus of oppressed voices finds joyous expression when (Irish) Dave exhorts the (Indigenous Australian) Sapphires to abandon country music for (Afro-American) soul — because it’s the music of resilience and resistance.

It’s probably also significant that the girls’ home — the Cummeragunja mission — is associated with Indigenous activism, being the site of the 1939 walk-off protest by Indigenous people.

Writer Tony Briggs based his story on the experiences of his mother and aunt, and the film concludes with a montage of photographs of the real-life Sapphires — a fascinating end to this delightful movie.

Irresistible.

Katrina Samaras

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