Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan clash as heads of a military choir in this feel-good British dramedy, from the director of The Full Monty, Peter Cattaneo. Inspired by true events, the film follows this pair as they attempt to fulfil their job to support the barracks’ wives when their other halves are dispatched on an Afghanistan tour. Their solution to raise the wives’ morale? Form a choir.
However, there’s one drawback, this pair is like chalk and cheese, Horgan playing a laidback mum figure, Lisa, whilst Thomas takes on the role of the stoic commander’s wife, Kate. Whilst the division is played up for both comedic and emotional moments, the film has a good pace – not focusing too much on any of its individual aspects. This is reflected in the musicality of the film too, as although it plays into tropes with one wife being shy but having a secretly astounding voice, the performances and nitty-gritty details of the choir’s singing itself do not overly dominate. Instead, the film is well-balanced, using the choir as a central theme through which the emotions and lives of the women involved are explored, in addition to the dynamics between the women themselves.
As the choir is quite big, it is easy to get lost at first with the characters, but this is overcome as Cattaneo well-characterises a couple of the more minor roles, gaining insight into the medley of personalities that come together in this group effort. These personalities and varied and natural, perfectly avoiding stereotypes which often fall onto minor characters within films, especially with the inclusion of a wife whose wife is part of the tour. Whilst it would have been interesting to delve more into this character beyond her comedic lack of vocal talent, the focus ultimately remains on the two main characters, Lisa and Kate. The initial stereotype of modern clashing with outdated doesn’t solely characterise the two, with both characters facing their own personal struggles throughout the film and the script is cleverly interspersed with smaller details that break down their tough exteriors. From Lisa packing away her husband’s belongings to Kate visibly putting on a brave face for the other women, the storyline is well emotionally balanced, ensuring the audience is invested in the choir too because of what it symbolises to the group: community.
It is easy to get swept up in these emotional moments, as the catharsis of music combines with emotion, especially easy when it’s to Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time, and despite being a comfort feel-good film, these reactions don’t feel prescriptive but natural. Cattaneo cleverly avoids us getting lost within the emotion too, by clearly indicating towards the goal of the cultivation of this choir, a high-profile performance. A couple of key moments leading up to this performance are predictable to the narrative, but these lend a familiarity rather than the plot falling shallow and a narrative arc is created that combines suitably with this sense of catharsis of emotion.
Overall Military Wives is perhaps more on the tame side, both in narrative depth and the comedic gags made, but fulfils the needs of a feel-good British film. Whilst it may not be a highly stylised film, it comes as a welcome break from the recent releases of more male-dominated, action-fuelled films about war, by focusing on those on the other side of the picture, “married” to the war, in Lisa’s words.
Rating = 3/5