In the time of COVID, we all need cathartic relief, comfort, and distraction. Without question, director Peter Cattaneo’s Military Wives, offers all that, and in spades, as the cliché says. That being said, I am someone who is tasked with identifying the bad, good, better, and best of film. As great as this film’s lead actresses are and as powerful as the original story on which the film is based is, the film is a veritable (military) parade of clichés.
For those who are sick of the daily, mostly awful surprises we are all subject to during the pandemic, Military Wives may be exactly what the mood doctor ordered, but for myself, I expect more from a film that snagged Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan as leads. I expect a film worthy of them.
Kate (Scott Thomas) is an officer’s wife, and both she and her husband are suffering the loss of their son, who was killed in action. Lisa (Sharon Horgan) is trying to raise a teenage daughter who expresses her crippling fear of losing her dad by acting out.
Though they are polar opposites in nearly every way, both of these women are tasked with leading and distracting a group of other female partners of men who are deployed in Afghanistan and at risk. Kate is a task-master. Lisa is laissez-faire. How will they keep the ‘military wives’ from just sitting at home and worrying? Singing together, that’s how. The film is inspired by the true story of the Military Wives Choirs, a network of 75 choirs in British military bases in the UK and overseas, as featured in the reality UK TV series, The Choir. Five minutes of watching the documentary series was more compelling than the entire 102 minutes of Military Wives.
The film is written by two multi-hyphenate women. When not penning screenplays, Rosanne Flynn is a development executive and director, and Rachel Tunnard is an editor and director. They definitely leverage the female gaze, getting some of the more nuanced elements of these women’s experiences right.
Especially spot-on is the story line about Kate’s loss, which allows Scott Thomas a few scenes to sink her thespian teeth into, unlike the officious stiff-upper-lip behavior that makes up most of her character’s personality. As fans of the actress can imagine, she still makes the best of Kate’s one dimensional characteristics. Scott Thomas elevates every project, and here she nearly makes a marvel out of mediocrity. The rest of the cast follow her lead, and do their best to fill the plot holes and script weaknesses, all in the service of bringing the experiences of some very courageous women to life.
Cattaneo’s 1997 The Full Monty is worlds better, and can be seen on Hulu for free. Available on the same site is 2003’s Calendar Girls, which stars the wonderful Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, and does everything Military Wives does, only better, and with more humor.
These are trying times. Maybe you feel like you need a film with absolutely no surprises, that wrings out your inner heartache and feelings of loss, and that reawakens that pluck or gumption you thought the pandemic had stolen from you forever. If that’s true, Military Wives will suit you very well. If, like me, you still expect more, give it a pass until it’s streaming for free.
2 1/5 out of 5 stars