I’m going to make a prediction: The Sapphires will be the sleeper hit of 2012.
Last night saw the UK premiere of this enchanting film charting the trials and tribulations of the first female Australian Aboriginal vocal group. I was in Australia during September and watched a film that had been hyped as ‘The Australian Dreamgirls’ and ‘the film Dreamgirls wished it could be’. While Dreamgirls was probably a more rounded Hollywood style movie, The Sapphires ticks many of the same boxes but with a story far less well known and does it in a more pleasing manner for me.
It is based on a true story of four talented Aboriginal girls (in real life this included writer Tony Briggs’ grandmother) who suffer from the segregated society pervading Australia in 1968. The film juxtaposes powerful imagery and footage of the US Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War and Australian unrest at the time to great effect as it creates an emotional link inside of the audience.
Standout performances come from the continually impressive Chris O’Dowd as the gloriously ramshackle Dave Lovelace who provides wonderful comic relief throughout. He also maintains real gravitas in spite of this and to his credit never roams into hackneyed drunken Irishman territory. However, equally as good is the matriarch of the group Gail McCrae, played by Deborah Mailman, who brings a fabulously tender intensity to an at times dislikeable character.
At times the writing seems clichéd and takes a simplistic linear approach but this should not detract from what is a wonderful experience as a viewer. Indeed the audience I saw it with ranged from the very young to the very old, albeit with a heavily female dominated demographic. The dramatic scenes are not for the faint-hearted and some of the racism is hard to watch – indeed the reveal that the government stole Aboriginal babies that could be ‘turned white’ genuinely shocked me. That said the film generally kept a light-hearted attitude and the cinema abounded with laughter throughout. The woman sat next to me (in her late twenties to early thirties) had a fixed smile on her face almost entirely throughout.
As things stand The Sapphires is due for release in the UK on 7 November and has no release date in the US, although, with the backing of Harvey Weinstein and a gathering momentum of praise expect that to change. While not the most groundbreaking piece of film making in history – despite its unique subject matter – I highly recommend viewing what is a wonderfully uplifting cinema experience that I guarantee will leave you smiling all night long.