I’m probably not the only one who never thought we’d see the day when Irish comedian / actor Chris O’Dowd would head off to Australia to make a movie set in the late 60’s about a group of Aborigine singers but that day is here! The Sapphires is playing at the 2012 London Film Festival and we got an early screening to see if this movie is as good as we heard. Not much has been released for it yet but a trailer is viewable here.

The Sapphires is a movie inspired by a true story about a group of four Aborigine sisters who use their gift of singing to entertain the troops in Vietnam during the war. Director Wayne Blair takes the reins on it with a script from writers Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson.

The four ‘sisters’ are made up of Jessica Mauboy (Julie), Deborah Mailman (Gail), Shari Sebbens (Kay) and Miranda Tapsell (Cynthia) and the film opens in 1958 with the four girls entertaining the people from their village where we soon discover that they have talent. We then cut to the late 1960’s and are introduced to their older selves minus one of the girls whose absence isn’t explained until a little later on. Gail and Cynthia decide to enter a talent competition but Julie is too young and and forbidden to attend by her mother. It’s from this point on that we get to see just how Aborigines were treated and how excluded they are.

As they arrive in town we are introduced to Chris O’Dowd’s character (Dave) who plays a drunk no-hoper keyboard player for the talent contest which, we learn, is fixed for a white to win from the start. When he hears the girls sing (and with a large minute predictable stage-crash by Julie), the movie is expanded into a fabulous story of the girls’ trip to Vietnam. It’s not long before Dave convinces the trio that they need to start focusing on a different type of music if they want to make it and embracing ‘soul’ rather than the Country and Western which they’ve sung all their lives. Pretty much every scene where O’Dowd spoke had me laughing and he was a joy to watch bouncing off comments from the rest of the cast.

Around half way through the movie, we change location to Vietnam where we’re placed inside what seems to be a party atmosphere for the girls who are under the impression that the whole trip will be a bit of fun. As they travel to their hotel from the airport, it’s not long before they see the realities of the Vietman war and start to wonder if this was such a good idea. Cutting in and out of archive footage, Director Wayne Blair again does a fabulous job setting the tone and it’s only when we go further into the Vietnam sequence that we get into the real back-story of where the fourth ‘sister’ has been all this time and why she disappeared at the beginning of the movie.

The performances are all fabulous with a largely (in the UK at least) unknown cast who all deliver their comedy and dramatic scenes very well indeed. It’s when the girls sing that they really shine on-screen as all four of them are simply excellent and you’ll be tapping your toe along before you know it.

The movie has some very serious elements as you’d expect from a movie based around the Vietnam war but the tone is set just right as we learn about our four main characters (or five if you include O’Dowd) and the struggles they’ve all gone through. Throughout all the seriousness of the movie, there is a great sense of humour and I must have laughed out loud at least a dozen times in the opening 10 minutes and then countless to the end. The movie deals with racism, loss, war, love and a whole lot more as we progress. I may have even shed a tear or two along the way!

The Sapphires has a lot of heart but an awful lot more soul and I highly recommend you check it out when it’s released later in the year (7th November in the UK).