Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 52 minutes, Director – Peter Cattaneo
When their husbands and wives go off to fight in the war in Afghanistan a group of women form a choir to take their minds away from worry.
Director Peter Cattaneo may be best associated with his 1997 feature debut The Full Monty. The film was a big hit at the BAFTA’s and even managed to pick up nominations in the Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay categories at the Oscars. When it comes to slightly obscure underdog comedies it’s often the film that many will call back to, the term “feel good” also being frequently used in the same sentence. And Military Wives does have similar hints to the director’s possibly most famous film; minus the nudity and most of the men, and with a fair deal more singing.
Inspired by – “inspired by” being the key detail, this is a largely fictitional story – the Military Wives Choir, famously formed by Gareth Malone in the BBC series The Choir: Military Wives, the story follows a group of women whose husbands and wives have gone off to fight in the rising Afghanistan war. Lisa (Sharon Horgan) has been appointed to lead the activities for the women in the hope of taking their minds off of the worries of what their partners are going through. However, it seems that the activities mostly consist of getting drunk in an evening and coffee mornings. That is until, during a brain-storming session led by Kristin Scott Thomas’ uptight, proper and mistrusting Kate, the suggestion of singing is thrown up.
It’s not long until the various members of the Flitcroft military wives singing group/ choir (the label is disputed between Kate and Lisa) are being run through their scales and being split into altos and sopranos – while one specific member is left in their own group (the running joke being that they can’t sing, which somehow manages to be consistently amusing). However, there’s disagreement between Kate and Lisa on what should be sung. While Kate would prefer hymns such as Morning Has Broken it seems that Lisa and the choir would rather sing The Human League. Throughout the film the pair disagree on what the aim of the choir is. Are they singing for themselves or other people? Is the purpose to entertain or create something more personal? It’s such feuds that begin to bring in the elements of drama that make the film the dramedy that it is.
Mix in the fear of the wives as they struggle to keep contact with their partners, “every time the phone rings, every time the bell goes. I mean, how do you cope” asks particularly young wife, married just before her husband went off to fight so that she was next-of-kin, Sarah (Amy James-Kelly). The worries of the other wives aren’t shown widely, apart from in group scenes of sympathy and comfort, the main focuses are certainly Kate and Lisa. Both of whom have their own struggles. Kate lost her son Jamie in the last tour and is still recovering, watching shopping channels on her laptop and buying any items she sees, from glass kettles to inflatable mattresses that can hold large amounts of weight. Meanwhile Lisa is struggling to properly connect with her daughter (India Ria Amarteifio).
For the large part Military Wives is very by-the-numbers. It’s fairly safe and middle-of-the-road. You see the trailer and what you see there is pretty much what you get with the film, and possibly a slight bit more. The “feel good” British underdog story. But, the most important thing is, is works. The humour does work, with a number of good chuckles scattered throughout, and the drama while relatively mild, keeping it to the 12 rating that the film has, does have some effect. When it all comes together everything manages to make for a perfectly fine, and rather enjoyable film. It’s just about what you expect it to be and in some ways it’s better for that being the case. Nothing feels overblown, and the film just about avoids being syrupy and overly-sentimental. The emotion is certainly there and while it isn’t exactly anything to open the tear-ducts of the audience there’s certainly a mild hit during one or two scenes. And, of course, when you throw in the humour the film is certainly an enjoyable one.
There’s a fair deal to like about Military Wives. It’s certainly what you expect it to be, but for that you get a fair deal of humour and some decently placed drama. The film is certainly not brilliant, but it is a good enough watch before the mass big-budget blockbusters flood the multiplexes this summer. And, it is a worthwhile watch made with heart and humour; something which is held closely by the film and comes across in its tone and all-round feel. Yes, it might be fairly by-the-books and simplistic, but that’s what brings in what many have described as the feel good tone. And for what it is Military Wives is in tune enough to be an enjoyable enough time with an audience at the cinema.
Led by some good performances and a good communal spirit Military Wives works because its finely tuned heart shows itself to be in the right place. Coming through in the humour and hints of emotion that are displayed from start to finish.