Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Peter Cattaneo
Stars: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Emma Lowndes, Gaby French, Lara Rossi, Amy James-Kelly, India Rai Amarteifio, Greg Wise, Jason Flemyng, Laura Elphinstone, .
A charming, feel good movie about a group of wives on the sleepy Catterick military base who, in 2010, formed a singing group as a way to break up the monotony. Military Wives is loosely based on the true story of the formation of the first such military wives choir; a montage over the final credit sequence informs us that there is now a vast network of such choirs around the world.
While waiting for their husbands to return home from whatever field of combat or six month overseas tour of duty they have been assigned to, the lonely wives often turn to booze, knitting clubs or book clubs as an escape mechanism to fight the fear that their spouses may never return home. On a base outside London, Lisa (Sharon Horgan, from the tv series Catastrophe, etc) decides to start a singing group as a distraction. She has a troubled relationship with her daughter Frankie (India Ria Amarteifio), who she struggles to connect with while her husband is overseas. Lisa is a contrast to Katie (played with steely quality by Kristin Scott Thomas), the colonel’s wife who assumes she should be in charge of the choir. Tensions arise between the two women as they try to take charge of the choir. Katie’s tastes are more conservative, while Lisa wants to inject some more contemporary popular songs into the repertoire. Tensions escalate after a high-ranking officer hears the rehearsals and decides that the choir should play a key role in an upcoming ceremonial concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
With its key plot of music being a healing force and a diverse group overcoming adversity to put on a rousing show, Military Wives shares a few themes and ideas with other feel good films like The Full Monty, Brassed Off and even the recent Fisherman’s Friends. Not surprisingly this light weight but entertaining film has been directed by Peter Cattaneo, who also gave us The Full Monty.
Military Wives has been written by Rosanne Flynn (short film The Knockoff, etc) and Rachel Tunnard (better known as an editor on a series of short films) and is based on the award-winning BBC documentary series The Choir: Military Wives. Flynn and Tunnard take some liberties with the material for dramatic purposes, resulting in a film that is somewhat predictable, cliched and formulaic, but nonetheless enjoyable and entertaining if a little too saccharine at times. There are few surprises as the choir evolves and the women bond as they prepare for the climactic concert. The material is suffused with some gentle laughs along the way. A few of the disparate characters are roundly developed and given some depth and backstories. One woman in the choir has to deal with the death of her husband, her childhood sweetheart, which adds a poignant quality to the material. Cattaneo also gives us a rather grim view of life on the military base, as the women all live in similar looking houses, and there is little variety to their daily routine.
Katie’s hardnosed attitude has been shaped by her grief over the death of her son, a soldier, and Thomas uses her usual cold demeanour to good effect here but eventually elicits sympathy. But there are also touches of humour to her character who has a black belt in on-line shopping to relieve her tension. Meanwhile Lisa’s attitude is shaped by her struggles to connect with her rebellious binge drinking daughter, and Horgan brings conviction and a punchy, snarky air to her role. The dynamic chemistry between the two adds to the film’s emotional undercurrent.
A crowd pleaser that hits the right notes, Military Wives also features an eclectic but evocative soundtrack that includes Cyndi Lauper, a new song from Robbie Williams, a moving score from Lorne Balfe and lively covers of songs from Yaz, Dido, Human League and Tears For Fears, which should have audiences tapping their feet and humming along.
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