Director Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires is a comedy drama set in 1968. It is inspired by the true story of writer Tony Briggs’ mother Laurel Robinson, and aunt, Lois Peeler, who travelled to Vietnam to sing for war troops.
The film, that made its world premiere at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, is based on the 2005 stage play of the same name. Briggs, who wrote The Sapphires for the stage co-wrote the film alongside Keith Thompson, meaning the film production has a lot of the same charisma and charm that made the stage adaptation so popular.
The heroines of the film are four indigenous women who begin their musical lives performing country and western tracks in gritty Australian bars, much to the annoyance of some snobby white folk. At the verge of giving up on their dream of making it big and struggling on their long and winding road to nowhere, the unlikely quartet made up of three sisters from New South Wales and their cousin from Melbourne, come across former cruise-ship entertainments director, Dave Lovelace, brilliantly played by Chris O’Dowd.
Chaotic Irish-man Dave sees potential in the four talented women and promises to catapult them from Aboriginal obscurity into a world of fame and wealth. The boozy talent scout persuades band members, Gail, Julie, Kay and Cynthia to change their genre of music to classic American soul. It is here that The Sapphires are born. Following their re-invention it is not long before the group are dubbed as Australia’s answer to The Supremes and Dave has their first real gig lined up – touring US military bases in Vietnam.
During their tour entertaining soldiers in Vietnam, the horrors of war get less screen time than the girls’ squabbling due to O’Dowd’s awkward flirtations and budding partnership with eldest Sapphire, Gail. Although critics doubted the supposed chemistry between Dave and his lover, labeling the relationship “unconvincing” and “lacking in emotion” the film shows that the Moone Boy actor belongs on the big screen.
The Sapphires is a charming film with some great heart-warming musical moments including a touching montage scene of the girl band’s growing success, showing them on the road in south-east Asia. The film deals with music, as well as issues concerning identity and race in a creative and inspiring manner.
The Sapphires deals with huge issues such as Aboriginal land rights and the state-enforced adoption of indigenous children by white families. However, Blair sets these issues into the wider context of the civil rights movement of the time and therefore context is pretty much all they manage to amount to. But if you are willing to view The Sapphires as a light-hearted film about four vivacious young girls from a remote mission as they learn about friendship, love and war you will not be disappointed.