Hidden beneath the veil of the all too familiar tune ‘we are stronger when we come together’, Military Wives is more than just a heartfelt dramedy. It is a tribute to the everyday sacrifice of those married into the military and the story of how one community choir managed to make the unbearable circumstances somewhat bearable.
As they farewell their partners off on a six month Afghanistan tour, the Military Wives of Flitcroft Garrison muster a brave face and do their best to profess deployment and family life as perfectly compatible. Marital tensions are high and interactions are awkward as partners skip around the fact that watching their loved ones go to war never gets any easier. Polar opposites Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lisa (Sharon Horgan) are tasked with the job of running social activities to keep the women’s thoughts off the war.
“It’s very important to keep busy – less time to think about things.” – Kate Parnell played by Kristin Scott Thomas
Due to her husband’s high rank and some unresolved issues, Kate comes off a little haughty towards the other women, often ostracising her from social activities. Contrastingly, Lisa is celebrated by the others for being jovial and refreshingly candid. To say the two clash is an understatement. What they do share, however, is a deep understanding of the struggle in maintaining a normal life while your partner is on assignment.
Despite their disagreements the two decide to form a women’s choir. The initial rehearsals leave much to be desired, with Lisa likening them to “the incantations of a bunch of witches”, but as performances improve the women are invited to perform at the Service of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, a daunting prospect for a social choir.
Although the plot is predictable, it is satisfying and moving. Each choir member is presented independently, with her own voice and unique quirks, encouraging the audience to consider them as individuals, a narrative choice often overlooked. Even the title ‘Military Wives’ reminds us of their lived injustice, defined not by name or by anything they have done, but by the vocation of their spouse. For men watching, this film will encourage you to see the sacrifices that women in your life might be making to enable you to do what you need to do.
Typically British, Military Wives presents true-to-life characters, as if they were picked up off the streets of Manchester. Pragmatic and emotionally evasive women, more likely to tell a joke than divulge how they really feel. The culture of the Garrison encourages the women to suppress their emotions, and all actors do a marvellous job masking inner fragility under seemingly undaunted exteriors. Particularly affecting are the women’s responses to the sound of every doorbell and phone call. The women in this film present far mightier than any of their servicemen husbands – abandoned by their allies, armed with responsibility, fighting in the trenches of isolation, and charged with the most taxing and thankless duties ever asked of by their country.
Director Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) takes a non-flashy approach, favouring authenticity over cinematic aesthetics. The dreary, unsaturated tones beckon us into the women’s shoes to experience the bleak service-people lifestyle. Cattaneo is intentional to maintain focus on the women, limiting unnecessary limelight on the children and male characters.
The film communicates values shared by Christians, particularly the power of community in overcoming adversity. All people experience suffering in one form or another, but being surrounded by a community that is authentic and loving is profoundly healing and empowering.
Military Wives is rated M for sexual references, coarse language and visible alcohol consumption.
In Cinemas Now
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Themes: 3 out of 5