(PG) Deborah Mailman, Chris O’Dowd, Jessica Mauboy

This film is set in 1968, a period, not that long ago, when the racial divide was significant in Australian history. Aboriginal people had just won the right to vote and children were still being separated from their families.

This is a shameful period in our history, so it is amazing to see such an inspiring film about Aboriginal women finding a voice.

Using the transcendent power of music, The Sapphires tells the remarkably courageous story of four Koori soul divas who make their mark on the world stage.

The year 1968 was also when the planet was in turmoil. Around the globe there were riots and revolution in the streets. JFK and Martin Luther King were assassinated.

Against the backdrop of this social upheaval, three young Aboriginal sisters, who live on a remote rural mission, decide to enter a small town talent quest to earn a bit of money. While there they meet Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), who sees their potential even if he doesn’t like their choice of music genre. He then agrees to help them audition for the Vietnam Entertainment scouts.

Their journey to Melbourne for the audition leads them to warily reconnect with their cousin Kay, who was stolen from them at an early age and raised in a white family. With the addition of Kay, the childhood singing group is complete.

What they don’t anticipate is that with an unlikely Irish manager they will eventually be singing for troops around Vietnam and involved in an adventure of a lifetime.

With equal amounts of humour and heartfelt drama this excellent film celebrates the women’s lives, loves and journey.

This is a sparkling debut for first-time filmmaker and actor Wayne Blair, who has crafted a soulful celebration of Aboriginality that is a credit to all involved. After its ten-minute standing ovation at Cannes this year, it deserves similar accolades with local and international audiences.

There is an amazing soul soundtrack and brilliant performances from Deborah Mailman as mother bear Gail, singing sensation Jessica Mauboy as tearaway lead singer Julie and newcomers Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell as Kay and Cynthia.

The script by Tony Briggs, the son of one of the women the film is based on is fantastic.

The chemistry between Mailman, one of Australia’s best actors, and O’Dowd is a revelation. It grounds the film, personifying the resilience of these talented women. Gail is not a victim of her circumstances; her strength and humour is inspirational.

The tone of the film is perfect. Where it could have centred on the victimisation of its protagonists, it gives them the power and respect to take on the world.

Try to resist tapping your toe to some of the infectious renditions of songs by Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and Linda Lyndell. Try to keep the goose bumps at bay when the far-from-home Sapphires harmonise on “Ngarra Burra Ferra”, a gospel song in their native Yorta Yorta language, down the phone line to their mother.

This is an outright celebration of a film and, by centring on community, love and respect, it is able to subtly drive home some historical truths.

Joyful, upbeat, perfect.

This is a film you must see at the cinema this year.

Adrian Drayton


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