The Sapphires (2 stars)

The Sapphires

Wayward plotting lets down this story of a 1960s soul quartet

It’s no surprise that Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires was based on a stage play. Scripted by playwright Tony Briggs, adapting his 2004 work (which played to full houses across Australia and starred Blair), this tale of four Aboriginal girls in the late 1960s who become a soul quartet entertaining the troops in Vietnam has an innate theatricality to it. Big songs, bigger personalities… it’s not hard to imagine this going down a storm Down Under.

So quite why Blair’s screen version never quite hits the high notes is something of a mystery. If the pitch is ‘Dreamgirls meets The Commitments’, The Sapphires doesn’t match either, though not for the lack of trying. The story follows three sisters, Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) who are spotted singing Country & Western in their local town’s talent content by the show’s whiskey-soaked Irish host Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd).

Convinced these girls have talent, but should be singing soul, Dave sweet-talks them into changing their act, before putting them up for an audition to entertain U.S. Marines in Vietnam. Of course, there are obstacles – the girls’ over-protective parents for one – but nothing ever really seems to get in the way. And so youngest sis Julie is promoted to lead singer and rebellious cousin Kay (Shari Sebbems) is roped in to form the quartet.

A former Australian Idol star, Mauboy is the stand-out performer – and if The Sapphires is worth the ticket price, then it’s to hear her shimmering renditions of numerous soul standards. As for the comic relief, O’Dowd is right in his wheelhouse and doesn’t disappoint, though even he comes unstuck in the second half, as the wayward plot tries a little tenderness. Despite an undeniable shambolic charm, the result, while not exactly off-key, could’ve cleaned up its act before it went on the road.

Selected release from Fri 7 Nov.

The Sapphires - trailer

The Sapphires

  • 2 stars
  • 2012
  • Australia
  • 1h 43min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Wayne Blair
  • Written by: Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson
  • Cast: Jessica Mauboy, Deborah Mailman, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, Chris O'Dowd
  • UK release: 7 November 2012

Four young Aboriginal sisters become Australia's answer to The Supremes in this true story featuring in-demand Irishman Chris O'Dowd.