New musical dramedy Military Wives follows a group of women, whose partners have left to fight in Afghanistan, as they figure out ways of coping with the collective emptiness they feel in their absence. Lead by Lisa (Sharon Horgan) and Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), the ladies decide to give singing a go and start a choir in an attempt to support each other and distract them from reality. After a rocky start, the women find their sound and are given the opportunity to sing at the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall. Here they perform their own song, ‘Home Thoughts From Abroad’, a love poem compiled from snippets of letters exchanged between the women and their deployed loved ones.
The film is based on the true story of the real Military Wives choir, originally established at the Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire in 2010. Due to the popular attention received after choirmaster Gareth Malone became involved with the idea, 74 more choirs for women in the military community have been set up across the country. Unlike the film, the Military Wives song was entitled ‘Wherever You Are’ – it was also based on the letters the wives had exchanged with their partners.
Each wife has their own story, which makes the movie parts heartwarming and sad. Lisa is raising her rebellious teenage daughter alone. Kate’s husband Richard (Greg Wise) is off to fight again after they lost their son to the war. Jess (Gaby French) has a young son, and a beautiful voice. Sarah (Amy James-Kelly) only recently married, and is particularly struggling with her initial experience as a military wife. Annie (Emma Lowndes) has two children who are just about old enough to understand where their dad is, making it more crucial than ever for Annie to remain calm and composed in front of her kids. The film follows each of their journeys individually and as a group, as they overcome grief and constant worry to provide the most important thing for one another: love and support. Through the power of music, covering such tracks as ‘We Are Family’ and ‘Time After Time’, the women learn how to manage their stress with the help of those around them.
Directed by Peter Cattaneo, the film has an appropriate mixture of happy and sad moments, reflecting what life must be like for those dealing with the circumstances explored in Military Wives. The first half cleverly catches you off guard in some of the more downbeat scenes, such as when the soldiers first leave, by using jokes to provide comic relief whilst maintaining a respect for the situation. This prevents the film from being a solely gloomy watch. As Military Wives progresses, it knows when to hold back on humour as the plot takes some more serious turns. However, in the end, even when the wives have their big performance – which, of course, is a very emotional scene – there is a cause for smiles and celebration. As the film draws to a close, the real choirs across the UK, from Scotland to the Falkland Islands, are shown, reminding us that those who cope with war in their everyday lives find a way to be positive – an uplifting end to a moving film.
Though Military Wives may not receive widespread critical acclaim, it’s an essentially feel-good crowd-pleaser. You will laugh, cry (sometimes happy tears), and be reminded of the importance of love, friendship and helping other people. In light of all the doom and gloom in the world right now, it is a much-needed pick-me-up.
Military Wives, directed by Peter Cattaneo, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate, certificate 12A. It is available to rent via Amazon, iTunes and other VOD platforms.