|Original Film Poster|
A young girl, Sapphire Robbins, is found stabbed to death on Hampstead Heath by two children-playing ball. Initially she is thought to be white until her brother Dr Robbins (Earl Cameron) turns up at the police station and he is black. The police start their investigation and it is discovered she was pregnant when she died. There are numerous suspects; from her white student boyfriend David Harris (Paul Massie) and his overtly racialist family to her black friends whom she deserted when she realised she could pass for white. That’s the basic scenario for Sapphire (1959) the first of what became known as Basil Dearden’s social problem films the second and probably best known was the controversial Victim (1961) the first mainstream film to deal directly with homosexuality, both films were written by Janet Green.
|Sapphire dances with Johnny Fiddle.|
In Sapphire we where introduced to a section of society previously ignored by British cinema and part’s of London not normally seen in films at that time. The movie was made after the Notting Hill riots in 1958 and before the more permissive 1960’s and at a time when immigration was a big talking point. Nigel Patrick and Michael Craig two well-known British actors star, Patrick as the upright detective in charge of the case Superintendent Robert Hazard while Michael Craig plays his openly racially biased assistant Inspector Phil Learoyd.
Johnny Dankworth provides the soundtrack and BAFTA provided an award for the Best Film in 1960 with Janet Green receiving an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Foreign Film Screenplay. Although well made the movie may now seem a little dated and its approach to race would now be handled quite differently, but at the time it was a very brave, if not a somewhat misguided attempt to tackle a social problem that was normally swept under the carpet. See also Basil Deardens Pool of London (1953), which incidentally also featured Earl Cameron.