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VOD Review: Military Wives

May 22, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The poster for Military Wives boasts that the film comes to us “from the director of The Full Monty,” and this really is a case of there being truth in advertising. The director is Peter Cattaneo, and like his surprise Oscar nominee from 1997, this film also functions as a feel-good crowdpleaser about a group of people coming together against all odds and stepping out of their comfort zones in preparation for a performance.

The setting for Military Wives is the fictional Flitcroft Barracks in rural England, where a group of women are left to stay when their partners leave for a six month tour in Afghanistan. Holed up at the base with little to do, the women are left looking for activities to take their minds off things so as not to spend the entire time worrying about the safety of their overseas partners.

As the wife of the high-ranking Richard (Greg Wise), the prim and proper Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) has always been given the duty of planning formal activities for the other wives. It’s a duty that she now shares with Lisa (Sharon Horgan), who has a very different idea of fun. A group brainstorming session leads to the creation of a choir, causing the uptight Kate and the free-spirited Lisa to butt heads over how to run it.

The former wants to lead a proper choir and sing old hymns using sheet music, whereas the latter wants to perform more contemporary pop songs without putting too much focus on proper arrangements and trying instead to just have fun. But when they are given the opportunity to perform publicly, the group must figure out a way to pull together, putting aside their differences in the face of adversity and great personal loss.

The story is predictable to a tee, and everything that you think will happen eventually happens, but it’s no matter. Cattaneo keeps the film so buoyant and enjoyable that, even if the journey we are being taken on is familiar at times, it’s hard to really mind. The film does a fine job of mixing comedy and drama, and the emotional beats are largely effective, as the screenplay by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard introduces poignant themes about processing grief and how different people deal with loss.

The film is elevated by the work of Kristen Scott Thomas, who does a good job of portraying the pain beneath Kate’s buttoned up exterior, nicely contrasted by Sharon Horgan’s appealing performance as the more freewheeling Lisa. Kate’s way of coping is to take charge in hopes of exerting some control over her life, where as Lisa would rather push aside the potential pain by drinking and having a good time. The two leads have an odd couple dynamic that works to both comedic and dramatic ends.

They are backed up by a good ensemble cast, which includes nice supporting turns from Amy James-Kelly as one of the younger members of the group whose high school sweetheart is off fighting in the war, and Gaby French as a young Welsh mother whose shyness over performing publicly is in stark contrast to her powerful singing voice. Inspired by the real formation of a choir made up of the spouses of service members, which paved the way for other such groups to spring up across England, Military Wives is an enjoyable crowdpleaser that delivers the right mix of laughs and tears.

Military Wives is being released today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms.

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