The heroics of those in the military have been celebrated countless times in the history of cinema, but the sacrifices made by spouses and children have rarely been highlighted. That’s one of the notable aspects of the new film, Military Wives, but it’s far from the only one.
Based on a true story and set in the early 2000s during the War in Afghanistan, the film follows a group of women at an Army base in England who find themselves alone once again when their spouses are redeployed to the frontlines. Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), as the wife of one of the leaders of the troops, takes it upon herself to organize activities for the women to keep them occupied and their minds off the dangers their spouses face.
Most of the ideas — knitting, book clubs, etc. — don’t stick, but the thought of creating a choir does. Kate initially butts heads with Lisa (Sharon Horgan) over the direction of the choir, with Kate wanting to make it more traditional and Lisa thinking outside the box with pop songs. But neither can anticipate that the formation of the choir from a group with widely varying singing skills will be far beyond just a morale booster for all of the women.
Directed by Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and written by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard, the film initially comes off like a cheesy feel-good movie with a predictable outcome. While the predictable part still applies, the early schmaltz soon gives way to something deeper.
The film makes no bones about the trauma the women endure while their spouses are at war, viewing every ring of the phone as a possibility for the worst news imaginable. This feeling is heightened when a traumatic event does occur, bringing the women even tighter together. That’s a moment that could feel forced and manipulative if not done right, but the filmmakers handle it with a light touch, stirring up emotions organically.
The individual members of the choir feature many stereotypes, but the fun of the group singing songs like The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Yazoo’s “Only You” is palpable, especially when they nail the choir versions of the songs. There’s no doubt about where the film is ultimately heading, but the nature of the song they sing in the end earns the tears that it brings.
Certain other things could have used more nuance, especially what seems like a tossed-off acknowledgment of the existence of gay people. While a number of women get a good look at their family life before their spouses are deployed, a lesbian couple is given only a brief, wordless scene, and later an insulting “and wives!” line when the group talks about their husbands. It would almost be better to not include gay characters at all than to treat them in such a dismissive manner.
Thomas and Horgan are strong leaders for a cast that includes no other well-known actors. Their respective filmographies give the audience an idea of what to expect from them, but each is also capable of surprise, notably in a tense scene late in the film. None of the other women stand out, although they collectively make for a fun and believable group.
Military Wives is not an award-worthy movie, but it has a compelling story and actors who know how to hold the audience’s attention. A final sing-along at the end credits only cements the power that music and community can provide for those in need.
Military Wives will be available to stream on Hulu, or to rent or buy through video-on-demand options (including Dallas' USA Film Festival for $4.99), starting May 22.