"Sapphire" starts with the discovery of a dead body in a London park by two children. As Superintendent Robert Hazard(Nigel Patrick) and Inspector Phil Learoyd(Michael Craig) investigate the case, they identify the victim as Sapphire, Robbins, a university student, and talk to her boyfriend, David Harris(Paul Massie). When Hazard meets her older brother(Earl Cameron), a doctor, he is taken aback by his dark brown skin, learning in the process that Sapphire was passing for white.
You have to like any mystery that starts with a dead body, and "Sapphire" uses that as a jumping off point for a compelling puzzle that is more who was she than who done it, although that is not unimportant here. The movie turns that into a smart and pointed critique of the racism of the time the movie was made in England which only surprised me as far as the segregation was concerned but there is none of the mistrust of the police that I would come to expect.(Is it any wonder that Basil Dearden would go on to direct "Victim" two years later?) The movie is also far ahead of its time in popping any number of stereotypes in its nuanced depiction of black professionals. At first, I thought maybe the attitudes on race might be generational but Hazard is the consummate professional, especially compared to his younger colleague, as the movie is firmly interested in not letting anyone off the hook.