Military Wives review: A formulaic but feel-good true story
Bianca Garner | On 25, Apr 2020
Director: Peter Cattaneo
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Emma Lowndes, Laura Checkley, India Ria Amarteifio
Watch Military Wives online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Military Wives is the latest film from director Peter Cattaneo, who is best known for The Full Monty. Cattaneo’s last film was released in 2008, and since then he’s been busy directing in the world of television, so it’s nice to see him return to the big screen. While Military Wives hits all the right notes, though, it doesn’t have the same comedic energy and freshness of The Full Monty. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable way to pass the time, especially if you need something light and fluffy.
You may know the story of the Military Wives Choir already. In 2010, the wives of the soldiers stationed at Catterick Garrison decided to put together a choir, and also wrote to choirmaster Gareth Malone for his assistance. However, that side of the story has been excluded from the film, which focuses more on the wives working together as an internal unit rather than request help from outside groups. What we have is a film that is very loosely inspired by true events, but still pays its respects to the real choir and, more importantly, gives the wives and partners of military personnel a voice.
The band of women come together to form a choir to distract themselves from the reality that their partners have been deployed to Afghanistan. The choir is formed by Lisa (Sharon Horgan) and Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), who constantly butt heads. Lisa is far more free-spirited while Kate is more snobbish and uptight. At first, the choir sounds just as you would expect: a disorganised mess.
However, the wives come together in support of each other, and there are some very talented singers in the form of Annie (Emma Lowndes), Maz (Laura Checkley), Ruby (Lara Rossi) and Sarah (Amy James-Kelly), among others. When a visiting brigadier hears the women practicing he decides to ask them to perform at the televised Festival of Remembrance at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The choir is certainly talented, but can they all overcome their nerves? And, crucially, can Lisa and Kate put aside their differences?
The performances from the film’s two main leads are wonderful. The film is at its strongest when we see Horgan and Scott Thomas bicker and squabble. It’s clear that these two actresses were enjoying themselves and they did their best with the material provided. The screenplay by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard is very formulaic, tightly following the three-act structure, and there are some really cheesy lines of dialogue that feel very on-the-nose. Even though there is tension, we know it will quickly be resolved and, as a result, the pay-off doesn’t feel very satisfying.
The main issue with the film is the sheer number of characters, which means not all of them get a chance to have their own subplots. There are some genuinely touching and emotional moments, especially in terms of the friendship that grows between Kate and Sarah. There’s also an interesting subplot that explores the relationship between Lisa and her teenage daughter Frankie (India Ria Amarteifio). The subject of grief is also touched upon, but the narrative marches on so quickly that these all get too nicely and neatly resolved, which damages the intended emotional impact.
Overall, Military Wives does what it says on the tin. It’s a film that’s designed to make the viewer feel good, and there are some amusing moments to be had. It’s not exactly a laugh-out-loud riot, and it doesn’t exactly explore grief and depression in depth, but it does recognise the stresses and strains that the wives and partners of those working in the military have to endure. If you’re a fan of Fisherman Friends, The Calender Girls and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, then Military Wives will certainly tick all the right boxes.