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Military Wives: An endearing home front hit parade

 

MILITARY WIVES
directed by Peter Cattaneo

Although a bit like a half-Full Monty, this tale of soldiers’ wives consoling themselves in song is undemanding and enjoyable.

Has Kirstin Scott Thomas ever sung in a movie before? The thought occurred when watching Military Wives, while pondering the question: is there anything in this largely likeable comedy-drama about a group of British army spouses forming a choir that we haven’t seen before?

She’s had some close calls. She played John Lennon’s aunt in Nowhere Boy and made her inglorious big-screen debut opposite Prince in his 1986 turkey/curio Under the Cherry Moon. Which may explain why on this film’s soundtrack of a cappella renderings of 80s hits by Yazoo, Tears for Fears and Cyndi Lauper, anything by his late purple-ness is markedly absent.

Scott Thomas, though, puts both her vocal cords and default uptight Englishness to good use in the role of Kate, the cashmere-and-pearls colonel’s wife who attempts to take charge among the spouses left behind on base when the regiment ships out to Afghanistan.

Kate is given a passive-aggressive pairing with an NCO’s missus, Lisa (Sharon Horgan from Catastrophe), who thinks the whole let’s-form-a-choir idea should be fun rather than occupational therapy.

The film cleaves to the blueprint of director Peter Cattaneo’s 1997 hit The Full Monty, though it lacks that one’s ensemble strengths: edge and energy. It’s a march to the big gig via the usual hazards – initial cluelessness turning to promise; scepticism from nearest and dearest; an early performance setback from which there seems to be no recovery; and so on – all of which arrive with aptly military precision.

The film is loosely based on a real story of a group of army spouses who featured in the 2011 BBC series The Choir: Military Wives, which ended with them singing at the festival of remembrance at Royal Albert Hall. This might strip out the reality-telly overlay, but it’s just as contrived – and guilelessly entertaining – and centres itself initially on the Kate-Lisa tetchiness that, via some inevitable rocky patches, turns to camaraderie.

Scott Thomas’ character has the loss of her soldier son as an emotional scar and Horgan doesn’t find it easy to wave goodbye to her sergeant husband on his latest deployment and isn’t sure she’s up for the leadership role bestowed upon her while also being a mother to a teenager. But she does have enough musical chops to knock the squaddie spouses into shape.

In some ways, it’s a pity the star pair dominate while the rest of the wives are left for the most part warbling, wisecracking and occasionally weeping in the background. Despite that failure to deliver an ensemble with as much personality as The Full Monty, Military Wives is still enjoyable. It might be utterly predictable and undemanding, but its bittersweet comedy and rousing singalongs will endear it to many.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★

This article was first published in the March 21, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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