Military Wives

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Military Wives
dir Peter Cattaneo
scr Rosanne Flynn, Rachel Tunnard
prd Rory Aitken, Ben Pugh, Piers Tempest
with Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Emma Lowndes, Gaby French, Lara Rossi, Amy James-Kelly, India Amarteifio, Jason Flemyng, Greg Wise, Laura Checkley, Roxy Faridany, Robert Whitelock
release UK 6.Mar.20,
US 27.Mar.20
19/UK 1h52

sw wise flemyng

horgan and scott thomas
In the fine tradition of true British stories sculpted into engaging entertainment, this film's narrative structure is designed to make the audience smile while coaxing a tear. It may start off in a breezy mode, but director Peter Cattaneo (whose The Full Monty is in the same genre) keeps the focus on the more serious aspects to develop complex, involving characters and situations that are darkly moving.
As their spouses head off for another tour in Afghanistan, the military base wives meet up to keep themselves busy. Assuming the role of leader is newcomer Kate (Scott Thomas), whose husband (Wise) is the commanding officer, but the naturally likeable Lisa (Horgan) has more of a common touch. As they begin to form a choir, Kate and Lisa clash about almost everything, but also find some common ground with the other women, each of whom has her own private issues. And they're all terrified every time the phone rings.
The plot follows the transformation of this choir from a group of misfits to a performance at the Royal Albert Hall on Remembrance Day. There are nonstop hiccups along the way, carefully layered in to create tension, suspense and exhilarating catharses. Add some personal issues, such as Kate's repressed grief for her late soldier son, or Lisa's frustration at her lack of communication with her rebellious teen daughter (Amarteifio). Everything is woven together for maximum emotional effect.

Scott Thomas and Horgan make a terrific double act, as Kate's perky control-freakery grates against Lisa's earthier go-with-the-flow approach. In the subtext, there's also some nice meeting of the minds, as these women compliment each other without acknowledging it, which gives the film a slightly brittle edge that helps sidestep much of the sentimentality. Standouts in the supporting cast include Amarteifio's feisty teen, Rossi's tone-deaf yet keen Ruby, James-Kelly's young widow and Checkley's sports fan.

While the script's structure skilfully holds the attention, it's rather too constructed to properly spring to life. There's never a moment when the viewer isn't aware that emotions are being manipulated, even if it's thoroughly enjoyable to give in and go with it. So if the characters are all specific types, and the story carefully suspended between key beats, including a rather far-fetched race to the climax, it all pays off with a blast of proper emotional clarity in the final act. And the true events it's highlighting are important to sing out loud and strong.

cert 12 themes, language 20.Jan.20

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