Review: Military Wives — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

The director of The Full Monty traces the real-life story of British women who form an impromptu choir to pass the time while their spouses are off fighting in Afghanistan.

Scene from military wives
Scene from Military Wives (Photo credit: Transmission Films)

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Military Wives 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

Stars: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan

Writers: Rosanne Flynn, Rachel Tunnard

Director: Peter Cattaneo

Streaming on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and other video-on-demand platforms

“Sorry,” says a military wife to a protester offering her a leaflet. “We don’t have the liberty to be anti-war. We’re married to it.”

That seemingly offhand comment cuts to the poignant heart of this warmly affectionate comedy.

It’s the shared dilemma of these women — separated from their spouses as they fight the futile conflict in Afghanistan — who flinch at every ring of their phones; holding their breath every time the doorbell sounds.

Director Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) captures the somber rhythms of life on a military base where the actual soldiers are all deployed to some far-flung war zone. With unfettered empathy, he traces the real-life story of some British women who form an impromptu choir to pass the time while their spouses are off fighting.

They got to be pretty good — and besides bringing down the house at an annual military concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, they inspired the creation of Military Wives choirs at bases around the world (many of which get charming cameos at film’s end).

Of course, for purposes of a movie some sort of conflict must be introduced to the plot, and that comes in the person of a commanding officer’s wife, Kate, played with vulnerable authority by Kristin Scott Thomas. A woman who’s used to getting her own way thanks to her husband’s rank — and also still traumatized by the battlefield death of her soldier son — Kate clashes almost immediately with her fellow choirmaster, freewheeling Lisa (Sharon Horgan of TV’s Catastrophe).

Two fine actors, Thomas and Horgan have an engaging oil-and-water chemistry that carries most of the movie. Still, true to its title, the film also has the good sense to give the various women in the chorus plenty of screen time. What could have been a mawkish flight of sentimentalism is kept firmly on the ground mostly thanks to the script co-written by Rachel Tunnard, who similarly avoided easy sentimentality in her criminally overlooked 2016 comedy Adult Life Skills. 

As they say: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. And you’ll come away with a sense of kinship for those who, while they may not risk their lives, place their hearts in the line of fire every day.

Featured image: Scene from Military Wives (Photo credit: Transmission Films)

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