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Movie review: The Sapphires


By Emma Perry

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Originally penned by actor and writer Tony Briggs as an award winning stage play, The Sapphires has burst onto the big screen in a joyful, soul filled manner.

Based on the true story of Briggs’ mother – one of two Yorta Yorta women who toured Vietnam entertaining the American troops – The Sapphires pairs a foot tapping soundtrack with political commentary and delivers both with style and aplomb.

The movie opens with three young girls from a remote Aboriginal mission determinedly showcasing their voices during a talent contest at the local pub. Gail (Deborah Mailman) counters the looks of disdain they receive from the white audience with a gusty “welcome to Black fellas’ land” as she takes to the stage. A great ‘go girl’ moment!

In the audience, Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) sees their potential immediately and uses his Irish charm to secure them an audition spot to entertain the troops in Vietnam.  He has only one task; to talk them out of singing Country and Western in preference for Soul Music. Cue a piece of comedic script writing brilliance…

O’Dowd – The IT Crowd, Bridesmaids – is superbly cast as the down-on-his-luck Irish musician with a penchant for alcohol. He handles both the comedic and more sensitive moments expertly.

Mailman – Offspring, Bran Nue Dae   is wonderful as the protective Gail. The eldest of the three sisters, she feels obliged to take on a caring ‘Mama bear’ role. Her journey is one of self-discovery and her portrayal is gutsy yet sensitive.

The on screen chemistry between all four girls creates a great camaraderie and easily pulls the film through some of the more loose plotlines. Jessica (Julie) Mauboy’s voice is stunning. Together with Gail, Miranda Tapsell (Cynthia) and Shari Sebbens (Kay) they create a formidable quartet belting out some great numbers complete with great choreography and 60s styled fashions.

The musical focus, featuring renditions of soul classics such as The Staple Singer’s I’ll Take You There and James Brown’s Soul Man produces an upbeat tone reminiscent of Alan Parker’s The Commitments (1991).

Skilful use of cinematic shots, archival material and the evocative location of Saigon combine to effectively recreate the 1960s era. References to Martin Luther King serve as a poignant reminder of The American Civil Rights Movement, drawing parallels with the girls’ own fight for their rights and identity in Australia at the same time. The scene depicting members of the Aboriginal mission gathered round a television broadcast informing them of Martin Luther King’s tragic fate is a powerful one.

Awarded the coveted Midnight Gala screening at The Cannes Film Festival this year, it’s easy to see why. The Sapphire’s has a wonderful exuberance and energy which creates a cinematic experience guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face.


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Emma Perry - to view all of Emma's blog post click here

Emma Perry is a freelance writer, reviewer and founder of the popular a children’s book review and price comparison website. A Melbourne dwelling book lover, she can be found buried under a mountain of books.


  • I’m really looking forward to this movie. I have heard such good reviews and it is great to see a well made Australian film showcasing our great talent.

    • I’m looking forward to seeing it too. It looks great!

  • Laura coleman

    What a great review! I really feel like I know what to expect – I can’t wait to check the movie out!

    • Hi Laura, thanks for your comment. Enjoy the movie!

  • Thanks for your great review Emma. The Sapphires is a gem. Pun intended. We saw it last Saturday night as a family. The cast is superb, the music is great and the story is engaging right till the end. It was profound yet ‘light’ at the same time. We laughed and had fun and got the message. No wonder it got a 10 minute standing ovation at Cannes.

    • Hi Trisha, so glad you all enjoyed it. ‘Profound yet light at the same time’ – so true!