Saturday, 17 December 2016

Black Britain - murder at RAM

"Sapphire - the sensational story of a girl whoi didn't belong". Basil Dearden's film from 1959 would be shocking today, especially in an increasingly divided society.  Filmed at the Royal Academy of Music, and at a jazz club in Charlotte Street. The students have changed, though. David Harris, a student architect, who has a scholarship to study in Rome, looks middle aged , though he's only 20.  The only hip thing about him is his duffle coat.  His girlfriend, Sapphire Robbins, has been murdered on Hampstead Heath.  The police break into Sapphire's room and discover she used to play records all the time "She was at the RAM!" says the landlady.  The cops assume she's been killed by a jealous lowlife from her double life. Then Sapphire's brother comes down from Birmingham. He's black.  "Are you her half brother?" ask the cops. "No" says brother.Sapphire was mixed race but passed for white in white society.

Sapphire was pregnant. "I've seen the autopsy" said her brother. He's a doctor.  "We'll find who I did it" say the cops. Dr Robbins isn't so sure. "When I was a boy", he says, "another boy touched me, and said 'nothing rubbed off ". But something rubbed onto him. Sapphire's landlady's scared in case word gets round that she rented rooms to blacks.  Even David didn't know Sapphire was black "until last week". A policeman visits Sapphire's GP. "Didn't you know she was....coloured ? You can always tell, you know". "Can you tell a policeman by his big feet?" says the GP.  The police track down Sapphire's black friends who say she started passing for white after being snubbed by someone who remarked "I see you like the junglies".  The jazz club owner says, sarcastically, "once the lilyskins hear the beat of the bongo, they can't hide". Even Sapphire's friends think Sapphire's black ex, Johnny, might have killed her.  He gets beat up by a white gang. Luckily - ironically - the cops arrest him.

Tensions in David's family.  His mother's worried. His sister, a bitch, snaps at her kids "Ask no questions and you'll get no lies". Wonderfully tight script which keeps up the tension without stop.  The racist cop says "These spades are trouble, send them back where they came".  If crimes could so easily be solved ! His inspector, though, doesn't agree. "Given the right atmosphere" her says "you can  organize riots against anyone. Blacks, Jews, Irish, evern policemen with big feet". Racist cop checks out Johnny's alibi and realizes he's in the clear.  David would lose his scholarship if he married.  Kaput to the family's ambitions. David snaps. Far from welcoming Sapphire, his family hate blacks.  The killer confesses ! But of course, it's Sapphire's fault for being black and uppity.  Brilliant film, utterly relevant today. Now at least, mixed race or any race, don't have to hide.

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