Peter Cattaneo (director)
1h 52mins (length)
05 March 2020 (released)
24 March 2020
With the likes of Calendar Girls and The Full Monty, Britain has a long history of producing comedy-dramas.
Now, the latest addition to the genre is director Peter Cattaneo's Military Wives, which takes inspiration from the true story of the Military Wives Choirs, a network of 75 choirs in military bases across the U.K. and overseas, as featured in TV series The Choir.
With a screenplay from Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard, the plot follows Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), a veteran military wife who is faced with tackling a huge void in her life following the tragic death of her son and the departure of her high-ranking army captain husband Richard (Greg Wise) to lead the troops in Afghanistan.
Seeking activities to fill her day, Kate sets about joining the other partners left behind at the base in England for a coffee group, and soon begins a brainstorming session about the activities they could do to boost morale on the home front.
Despite her intrinsic pessimism, shopkeeper Lisa (Sharon Horgan) agrees to lead the women in a singing group, on the condition that they keep the songs upbeat and the atmosphere light-hearted.
Of course, tensions arise between Kate, who wants to run the group like a traditional choir, and Lisa, who is all about offering the women a break from their day-to-day realities, with the pair forced to put their clashing personalities aside for a minute when they are all invited to perform at a local market for the first time.
Their debut gig doesn't go to plan, however, leading to the women seriously contemplating whether they should keep up their casual singing sessions.
Despite this, the choir concept quickly catches the attention of senior officers in the military, with Kate and Lisa invited to perform with their group at a major event in London.
Scott Thomas and Horgan offer up solid vocal performances, as does the character of Jess (Gaby French), with it impossible not to get swept up in joyful renditions of hit tunes like Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time and Sister Sledge's We Are Family.
Catteneo chose for the cast to avoid rehearsing together too often before they filmed the early scenes, with the decision paying off, as the performers' varying levels of confidence and singing ability does offer the narrative a sense of authenticity.
The other area where the movie really works is in relation to the exploration of the home lives of the wives and partners left behind.
The fears and stresses of soldiers heading into battle have been delved into many times onscreen, yet, Military Wives looks at how the women manage to juggle work, children, and friendships, as well as the constant anxieties they feel each time the phone rings or there is a knock at the door.
It's a worthy topic and the emotion of some of the scenarios the women face truly pull at the heartstrings.
Aside from a particularly fiery disagreement between Kate and Lisa in a car park, the story relies on the familiar themes of teamwork, sisterhood, and forgiveness, and while its structure borders on formulaic - perhaps no surprise considering Catteneo also helmed The Full Monty all the way back in 1997 - the director ensures Military Wives hits all the right notes.