Based on Tony Briggs’s 2004 stage play, The Sapphires is a crowd-pleasing, feel-good comedy about four sisters who discovered their voices while entertaining troops in Vietnam.
Director Wayne Blair applies a light touch to some potentially thorny subject matter – the enduring pain of a stolen generation of Aboriginal children forcibly taken from their parents, the devastation of the war on the indigenous population – but like the songbook, his film remains upbeat.
Blair’s film opens in 1958 with young girls running excitedly to an Aboriginal mission, where their joyful singing is cut short by the arrival of the authorities.
Several girls are taken away, to be assimilated into white families.
Ten years later, booze-sodden Irish talent scout Dave (Chris O’Dowd) discovers Gail McCrae (Deborah Mailman) and her sisters Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) singing in a pub talent contest.
Ambitious 17-year-old Julie persuades Dave to put them forward for auditions to entertain the troops behind enemy lines.
Dave eventually agrees, and promotes Julie over Gail as the group’s front woman before persuading the girls to recruit their estranged cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) and rechristens the group as The Sapphires. He ditches the girls’ country repertoire and turns them on to soul music.