FILM REVIEW: Military Wives

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

Writers Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard

Director: Peter Cattaneo

Audiences might mistake Military Wives for a film where they can relax. The fact-based story is not only well known it follows an established formula and is handled by a director who has proved himself to be a master at staging feel-good tales of adversity leading to triumph. Director Peter Cattaneo rose to fame with the 1997 hit The Full Monty and his new film follows the same blueprint – ordinary people rising to the challenge of coping with a depressing situation in a suitably eccentric British manner.

However, Military Wives, written by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard is too honest to conform to the feel-good formula. There is a constant undertone of harsh reality running throughout the story. The characters are not so much keeping calm and keeping on as desperately hanging on by their fingertips. This is an environment where a bereaved father, unable to come to terms with the loss of his son, volunteers for combat to avoid being alone with his wife. When a young wife receives news of her husband’s death, the reporting officer addresses her impersonally by her surname.

While soldiers are serving in the conflict in Afghanistan their wives, left behind on a military base, struggle to maintain their morale knowing their partners may never return.  Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) has already lost her son in battle and waits for the return of her husband. Lisa (Sharon Horgan), is unwillingly put in a position of responsibility due to her husband’s promotion but even so resents Kate’s interference in organising social activities for the wives on the base. Although the idea of forming a choir is popular, Lisa and Kate disagree on its purpose – the former perceiving it as a learning process and the latter as a simple distraction.

Director Peter Cattaneo sets a mature, reflective tone for the film. There are no easy laughs and the relationship between Lisa and Kate is realistically tense. Kristin Scott Thomas does not shy away from the unlikeable aspects of Kate making her brittle, standoffish and judgemental – the sort of woman who, without thinking, goes to the top of the supermarket queue. Lisa is a character outside of Sharon Horgan’s comfort zone and she shows her range with a woman very aware of her limitations as a mother and friend.

The method by which the military wives choose to distract themselves is credible rather than exaggerated. No one would believe women in their position would, say, pose naked for calendars but forming a choir is in character. The overwhelming sense of apprehension apparent in the film- the constant fear of the telephone ringing with bad news- makes clear why such therapeutic relief is necessary.

Military Wives is a bittersweet story that pays tribute to the dignity of the women involved in such projects in real life and still serves as a heart-warming comedy.

Release Date 6th March 2020

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Heart-Warming Comedy

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