Military Wives (2019)
At first glance, the feel-good comedy drama Military Wives (2019) looks like a familiar narrative cliché. A group of ordinary people get together to do extraordinary things, like form a choir, learn to sing, perform at the top. What is not expected is a film that delves into the emotional world of a mostly overlooked group of heroines: the wives of serving military personnel.
To understand the class structure framing this film one needs to be aware that the British Army, like most around the world, is based on a two-tier system with a wide status division between officers and soldiers. Each is obliged to respect centuries-old rituals of deference, and the social standing of wives’ mirror that of their husbands.
We enter the story in the midst of several farewells when a British regiment is deployed for Afghanistan service in 2010. With the warriors gone, the base camp turns its attention to keeping the womenfolk busy in order to mitigate the isolation of those left behind. By convention, the wife of the ranking soldier organises things, and Lisa (Sharon Horgan) steps up for the task only to be lorded over by the Colonel’s wife Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas). And nobody portrays class snobbery as well as the British.
The group form a choir, despite the initial absence of talented singers. Conflict between a colonel and a soldier’s wife is inevitable and the tension points predictable. So too is the harnessing of energy towards a common goal and the slow emergence of beautiful choral sounds. The humour is sardonically British, the script sufficiently engaging to entertain, and for balance, there is an episode of deep sadness to remind us that not all soldiers come back.
Well-filmed and acted, it is easy to enjoy this film at the narrative level but that is not its intention. The closing credits let us know that this particular military wives’ choir was the first of 75 such choirs across the UK, involving over two thousand singers. That makes this film an historical tale about a contemporary tradition; more than that, it shines a light on a necessarily silent group of war victims.
This may appear to be a lightweight ‘women’s film’ but that would sell it short. It’s a film about the power of music, the importance of friendship in times of need, the emotional cost for those who send loved ones to war, and the trauma of separations and reunions. The legacy of the first military wives’ choir lives on today.
Director: Peter Cattaneo
Stars: Sharon Horgan, Kristin Scott Thomas