The Sapphires

December 2, 2012 at 4:26 am | Posted in Film Review, Musical Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see The Sapphires the other day and found it quite disturbing. The script by Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson is not just a musical – this is not an Australian version of The Commitments. The film directed by Wayne Blair is very crafted to bring out into the light some episodes in Australia’s history.

On the face of it, the film is about four Aboriginal young women who go to Vietnam, to sing, to mark their mark on the world. The three sisters Gail, Cynthia, and Julie, and their cousin Kay, are ‘discovered’ by Dave – an itinerant Irishman with a passion for soul music – and the rest is history as they say. But whose history?

There is a tension between Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Kay (Shari Sebbens) that when it is explained is quite shocking – and not the usual adolescent ‘you stole my boyfriend’ squabble. Kay is one of the ‘stolen generation’; she was taken into custody by the Australian government in 1958 to be raised as a European, and in her only visit back to the Mission, she says some very hurtful things about ‘lazy Aboriginals’.

The film begins in 1968, with Gail, Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) going into town – they live on an Aboriginal Mission – to enter a talent contest. This is the audience’s introduction to race relationships in Australia – it is not violent, but it is not a pretty sight either. Despite being the best act they do not win, and are told to go back where they belong. This is when Dave discovers them, rather Cynthia convinces him to be their manager. He is a bit of a hopeless romantic.

Gail, Cynthia, and Julie are re-united with Kay, and after a short audition, they are off to Vietnam.

This portion of the film inevitably explores Western intervention in Vietnam. The film stays firmly centred on the Sapphires, but what they see and experience of Vietnam is pretty disturbing – the brutality of war, the divisiveness of a civil war, and US race relations injected into an Asian conflict. Vietnam was a war fought without borders or uniforms – there is no rear area, and the Sapphires are caught up in the fighting.

There is lots of romance: what can you expect when young men and young women thrown together – and it is the 60’s.

Definitely worth seeing. The singing is pretty good too – especially if you like soul, the other 90% of recorded music is shite! (or so says the Dave character). Just don’t expect a just musical; there are some very serious issues gently brought out onto the ‘silverscreen’.


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