Military Wives (2019)

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I’ll be completely honest; I’m a lover of all types of music, but I have to say that choirs comprised of military wives are not a genre that enjoys a regular rotation in my Spotify playlists. That being said, it’s fair to say that pretty much everyone in the UK is familiar with the real life story behind this 2010s phenomenon, and if there was ever a narrative around which to build a cosy Sunday afternoon British comedy drama, this fits the bill like a hand in a glove.

The no nonsense titled Military Wives tells the story of a group of soldier’s spouses who form a choir to help take their minds off worrying for their loved ones serving in Afghanistan. Lead by Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), the stuffy Colonel’s wife and Lisa (Sharon Horgan), a much more relaxed and relatable second in command, the choir go from strength to strength on a whirlwind journey all the way to a performance at the prestigious Festival of Remembrance at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Like I said, I went into the cinema hoping for a comfortable, classically British experience, and by and large that is exactly what I got. In fact, I ended up liking Military Wives much more than I expected to. The overarching journey of the film is one we all familiar with, an against the odds success story, but within the narrative there are a lot of themes and moments that are really appealing and poignant. Front and centre is the tension angle between the film’s two protagonists, playing out a classic chalk and cheese dynamic that is always satisfying to see develop into understanding. It is something that affords opportunities for both dry comedy and ultimately catharsis.

Most enjoyably, though, is the constant underpinning theme that binds the entire narrative together, the theme of strong female friendships. These characters, effectively trapped behind the gates of a military town, have only each other to lean on to get through an unimaginable limbo of worry for their loved ones, and whilst the musical moments in the film evoke charm and fun, it is the interactions between the wives that are the real selling point for me.

Military Wives doesn’t do anything unique or innovative, it stays very much within the boundaries of the British ‘dramedy’ tradition, but in this kind of arena I don’t see much wrong with that to be honest. There are sufficient laughs, obligatory tears and a pleasing splash of diversity that we haven’t always seen in military skewed films.

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None of the cast involved here are doing their most challenging or memorable work, but there is certainly something enjoyable and uplifting about experiencing a group of women, all shapes, sizes, colours and sexualities, navigating life’s extreme highs and extreme lows together.

Front and centre are the aforementioned Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan as Kate and Lisa, and both actresses are a pleasure to watch. Scott Thomas in particular manages to add a touch of that special ‘movie star’ magic to a character that by all accounts should be rather unlikeable, but Kate goes on a journey that is nicely guided by a more than seasoned performer. Together, her and Horgan share a great, up and down chemistry that provides many of the emotional milestones in the film.

Fleshing out the charismatic choir are the likes of Amy-James Kelly, Laura Checkley, Emma Lowndes, Lara Rossi and Gaby French. It’s a large ensemble choir with more than a few fillers, but those mentioned all get their small chances to shine, and their individual backstories within the narrative are an integral element in the film successfully showcasing the suspenseful and sometimes heartbreaking nature of having a partner in the army.

Overall, Military Wives might not have quite earned itself a spot on that crowded shelf of top tier British comedy dramas, but there really is something about it that feels a little bit special. Perhaps I was in exactly the right mood at the right time, but it all pretty much worked for me. No risks taken, but no glaring mistakes made either. Us Brits have always been great at producing these kinds of ‘feel good’ pictures. This one might be vaguely disposable, but damnit, I can’t deny it, it made me feel good.

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