“Military Wives” takes us to England on a military base during the Afghanistan conflict. The wives begin a choir group as a distraction to pass the time and create a sense of companionship while their partners are gone. The group unexpectedly finds itself competing for a championship, but the meaning of this group goes far deeper than just trying to win a trophy.
Walking in another’s shoes is one of the beautiful encounters when viewing a film and “Military Wives,” while lighthearted and fun on the surface, provides exactly that as their partners’ return is not a guarantee. The anxiety-filled lives of the women left to wonder about their spouses’ whereabouts and safety gives credibility to an otherwise predictable and sometimes cliche, albeit quite humorous, story.
Kristin Scott Thomas stars as Kate, a rigid and controlling wife of the high-ranking Colonel at a military base. As “the wife,” she takes her responsibilities very seriously as she organizes events including the women’s group and puts the fear of God into everyone she encounters. But now it’s time for her to hand over the baton to a new wife, Lisa (Sharon Horgan), but that is much easier said than done for this perfectionist. Lisa and Kate, in perfect discord, begrudgingly organize a women’s choral group filled with talent that would make Simon Cowell run for the hills.
Of course, Kate and Lisa are the focal point, and you couldn’t find two more polar opposite characters. Mixing the inflexibility of Kate with the relaxed attitude of Lisa is similar to pouring gasoline on a fire. Their relationship is at the heart of the film as it begins comedically with antagonistic situations and comments but develops to a deeper level of understanding and compassion. It’s a delicate balance between heartbreakingly realistic scenes and hilarious attempts at musical performances.
The singing, of course, gets significantly better with the discovery of one very talented but shy member of the group. While we know what’s going to happen, understanding this is based on a true story gives it its much-needed validity.
Additionally, the secondary stories about each of the characters gives the story more depth and allows you to have sympathy or perhaps even empathy for each of them. We learn about Kate, who has her own deeply buried story to tell, and we better understand the women’s situations as they say goodbye to their spouses, possibly for the last time.
“Military Wives” punctuates on an individual level the fears of the unknown and for the tenuous future particularly for families with children. Quite unexpectedly, “Military Wives” takes a big chance with this aspect of the film, and it works.
Thomas and Horgan shine in their roles as Kate and Lisa. Thomas gently allows her character to develop, gradually peeling away the layers to allow herself to feel and be more vulnerable but always tethered to her old ways. Horgan’s wit bubbles over with her quick pace, snappy retorts and facial expressions that say a thousand words. Both actresses depict the complicated female aspects of a relationship as not just women but as mothers and wives as well.
The music is quite catchy as the group prepares for its final competition, but at the heart of this is the need for friendship and support, especially during times of uncertainty and a little distraction can be important, too. I think we all can relate to that during these difficult times.
You can stream “Military Wives” on Amazon Prime and other digital platforms now. (Grab a box of tissues — you’re going to need them at the end.)
Reel Talk rating: 3 Stars