“Military Wives” (2020)
Running time: 112 minutes
Written by: Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn
Directed by: Peter Cattaneo
Featuring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Jason Flemyng and Greg Wise
Lisa: [about the singing at the very first choir rehearsal] “It was like incantations of a bunch of witches.”
Released recently on both DVD and Blu-ray is the English drama “Military Wives” (2020), as with many of these types of movies it is based on a true story which is designed to be a feel good as well as uplifting story, not only that it has a gimmick of sorts and that is the idea of Army wives forming a choir of sorts and entering a concert, becoming famous and reaching millions around the world. Of course this is a movie that features a great English cast that also has some social commentary and a few laughs which is par for the course for this type of movie. Ultimately this movie is exactly as advertised albeit a little slight but with lessons to be learned especially about class which is a pervasive subject in the UK and has now become linked, sometimes replaced by race, especially in popular movies.
It’s remarkable the seeming ease that the British Film Industry is able to produce great independent drama, comedies and horror movies each and every year. Not only that, but the talent on show always seems to be original as well as first class. What many of these English films have in common is that they are based around something unique or have some kind of gimmick, this new movie “Misbehaviour” has both of those, but feels like it is stretched too thin to actually make the impact it should. While it is an ensemble with a large group of characters, the narrative itself feels rushed with so much plot to cram in when the actual event takes place it feels like an afterthought with a part of the story, a court case, that is never seen, which to me feels like a big part of the real life story. This movie has much in common with many of the British movies produced over the past twenty years, it has some well known actors that could all carry their own movies, it has a concentration of on location production, is based on a very English story and most often has relatively inexperienced writers and directors.
“Military Wives” is based around the wives of military personal who all reside on Base together, with their partners away serving in Afghanistan, the women on the home front form a choir and quickly find themselves at the center of a media sensation and global movement. Of course this is not the only story with a variety of women married to different ranks trying to get along, not only that there are tropes involved that would normally be seen from the mens point of view that is now through the wives. So throughout the narrative we see the reaction to husbands being wounded, being killed, being left behind to look after administrative duties and the natural friction between higher and lower ranks.
The real weakness in the movie is the script by Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn who really seem to have just looked at other English movies of a similar ilk and painted in the details around a fairly routine plot, which is a shame as it deserved some more tension and originality especially when you have Kristin Scott Thomas in one of the lead roles. I suppose unsurprisingly the producers have recruited director Peter Cattaneo who is best known for the breakout hit (and one of the first types of this English movie) “The Full Monty” (1997). Over the years Cattaneo has proven himself to be a very good director of both movies and television which shows here in a competently directed and well balanced piece that has a number of very good performances which would have been even better with a more original and thought out script.
“Military Wives” is led by the performances of Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan who each play to their perceived strengths going by their past roles, so we have Thomas as the higher ranking wife who is austere and humourless, juxtaposed with Horgan who is all personality and who seems to be the funny one who is the life of the group bringing everyone together. Of course as with many of the characters and of course performances it is all about what is going on beneath the surface and both actors are good enough to project exactly what is required for audiences to understand where they and the story are going. There is nothing to really fault with all of the actors performances, it just might have been more fulfilling for them to have more to sink their teeth into.
The very idea of a choir in the armed forces was something new and so grabbed the public’s attention when this group of women gained some fame and appeared on an English television show which is what, on the surface this movie is about. “Military Wives” explores in a small way what it is like to be left at home while their partners leave to go into a tour of duty which for the most part highlights some very real concerns but is subverted a little by the comedy and music. It does seem to be two narrative strings that are forced to co-exist but never really hang together in a meaningful way which for me is a missed opportunity and also means this is a movie that instead of standing out from the pack is just one of many. This is a drama with comedic and of course musical elements, my feeling is it needed to stick to a genre and ride it out, so a more unconventional way may have been a musical or a straight drama, but I could not help but feel the actual comedy did not fit.
With all of that said “Military Wives” is a very enjoyable movie with some good music and terrific performances but it just misses on being something meaningful with a comment to make on the position of the military, the role of women in the forces – serving to not – and the way the public views the military when it appears that their presence in other countries is not wanted. However it is a good watch and I recommend a rental or wait for a streaming service to pick it up down the line.