While for some Military Wives will feel like its own thing, a heartfelt story about different forms of courage. To me, it feels like a continuation of a trend that seems to be continuing unabated, with varying degrees of success. The cynical side of me can’t help but see the releases of films about adults finding new life through singing and comparing them to one another, as they act as spiritual successors. Akin to films like Fisherman’s Friends and, the far superior Song for Marion (Unfinished Song to any American readers), this Kristen Scott Thomas starring picture is novel and honest but finds itself buried within an oversaturated sub-genre.
Following the true story of the first Military Wives choir, the film follows Lisa (Sharon Horgan) and Kate (Scott Thomas) as they establish a choir that at first starts as something to distract from the constant fear of bad news as they wait for their spouses to come home from war. However when it soon becomes something that these women find not only therapeutic but constructive. However, Lisa and Kate have very different ways of approaching their new group and very different problems plaguing their home lives.
Peter Cattaneo’s film, which doubles as the last film I watched before the shuttering of British cinemas due to the recent Covid-19 outbreak, is limited, an ironic statement because it feels like an incomplete limited series, a rushed product that only capitalises on half a story and half the characters. While Lisa and Kate are rounded, smart, funny and determined, their counterparts all fit designed roles in a film about not bucking to a trend, an idea that what is expected of this group of women is to sit around and wait for the other shoe to drop. An early attempt at bonding by setting up a failed knitting group while incredibly funny doesn’t do enough to drive the point home that these women have more to them than their partners.
That being said, their respective other halves are oftentimes ignored or forgotten about completely. Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard’s lively script wants to acknowledge and ignore this absentee presence while playing to a quintessentially British, keep calm and carry on mentality, which makes this choir admirable but lacking in some sorely-needed context. The inner workings of military procedure and how it relates to life back home is used, not just for some well-earned levity but with total respect for an underappreciated section of military life.
Horgan and Scott Thomas are an incongruous yet perfect pair with their moments of sparring and forced control highlighting chemistry that feels sadly missing when the whole choir congregates. While the film mainly carves its story out of this pairs misgivings and battles, it never really feels like the community this true story stimulated others to create.
An oftentimes obvious analogy for parenting, Military Wives doesn’t play with your emotions, more positions you to having a more understanding mindset. In fact, the only real detractor from the films overall feel is a score by Lorne Balfe that never just lets the story flow naturally, instead, setting a gleeful tone for these women to adhere to, not aspire to. This is a piece of textbook, British feel-good (often overly so) filmmaking, something expected from the director of The Full Monty but it might just be too interested in ensuring it lands the punchline, keeps the laughs going to really connect.
While there is little to take fault with here but it doesn’t pack the punch it thinks it does and while this is a story of a group worth rooting for, Peter Cattaneo needed more time and a closer connection to the group’s outliers to really make the choir sing.