Sapphire (film)

Sapphire is a 1959 British crime drama. It focuses on racism in London toward immigrants from the West Indies and explores the "underlying insecurities and fears of ordinary people" that exist towards another race.[1] The film was directed by Basil Dearden and stars Nigel Patrick, Earl Cameron and Yvonne Mitchell. It received the BAFTA Award for Best Film and screenwriter Janet Green won a 1960 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Foreign Film Screenplay.[2] It was considered a progressive movie for its time.[3]

UK release poster
Directed byBasil Dearden
Produced byMichael Relph
Earl St. John (executive producer)
Written byJanet Green
StarringNigel Patrick
Yvonne Mitchell
Michael Craig
Paul Massie
Earl Cameron
Bernard Miles
Music byPhilip Green
CinematographyHarry Waxman
Edited byJohn D. Guthridge
Release date
  • 21 April 1959 (1959-04-21) (United Kingdom)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Earl Cameron, who played the part of Sapphire's brother,[1] would appear two years later in another English film dealing with racial issues, the 1961 film Flame in the Streets.[4]


The body of a young woman is found stabbed on Hampstead Heath. Although appearing to be white, when her brother (Earl Cameron) arrives at the police station to give evidence, the officers see that he is black and that she must be mixed-race too. Her brother confirms that they were the children of a white father and a black mother, but Sapphire has recently been passing for white.[5] Sapphire's white boyfriend, a student, immediately becomes the chief suspect. He is followed by plain clothes police and seen acting suspiciously around the crime-scene. The discovery in the police post mortem that Sapphire was 3 months pregnant is an added complication. As the investigation proceeds other, surprisingly colourful aspects of Sapphire's social life bring further suspects to light.


Critical reception

The New York Times wrote, "If "Sapphire" is not entirely in a class by itself, the combination of murder mystery and racial issues puts it several interesting cuts above standard movie melodrama."[6]

Paperback novelisation

In April 1959, Panther Books of London issued a screenplay novelisation by prolific mystery and thriller novelist E.G. Cousins.


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