Once or twice a year a ‘small’ picture sneaks into the local cinema and stays for weeks and weeks usually because of word of mouth. Most of the time they are an English movie but “The Sapphires” is an exception being from Australia. The movie is based on the true story of four Aboriginal women who lived in the Outback where, until the 1970s, children were stolen from their families and adopted by ‘white’ families or put into institutions. This is not that story though the theme is mentioned now and then just as the similarities and differences in the treatment of Black people in Australia and how Black people were treated in the United States.
This is the story of the girls who are ‘discovered’ by an alcoholic talent scout, Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) whose claim to fame is that he once was a director of talent on a cruise ship. He hears their potential and when one of the girls talks about auditions to entertain troops in Vietnam he makes himself their manager. Dave talks them out of the country and western songs they have been singing and makes them over into a typical Motown girl group of the 1960s, using the songs, outfits and moves, oh, say like the Supremes. There is some playing with the facts during the movie such as the character Dave never existed but it looks like Australian writers (Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs, son of one of the women) and director Wayne Blaine have seen enough Hollywood movies and brought their lessons to this film. The girls each have their boyfriend angst and there is the infighting, not to forget to show a bomb or two going off in the Vietnam scenes, and a breakup here and there but all ends well, just like a Hollywood film would.
The girls: Gail (Deborah Mailman) is referred to as the ‘Mama bear’, Julie (Jessica Mauboy) plays the lead singer, Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) who is content being a backup singer and Kay (Shari Sebbens) the sister’s light skinned sibling who had been one of those children kidnapped from her family and brought up as a white city girl and, of course, will fall in love with the darkest skin soldier. They put over the songs and they handle deeper moments making them believable. Chris O’Dowd has enough charm to make the audience not realize they are wearing their hearts on their sleeves. The songs from “Heard It On The Grapevine” to “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” bring the Motown sound and, through subjects from racism in the USA to the situation with Aboriginals and the war in Vietnam though lightly dismissed, brings the 1960s back.
Be sure to stay for the ending credits to see what these women did with the rest of their lives which is very impressive.