Military Wives

 

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A piece of popular cinema that echoes earlier and superior movies.

 
Military Wives  

Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan

 

Given the state of things in the world today it could not be more timely for cinemas to be offering audiences a feel- good movie. My regret is that, acceptable as it will probably be for many, Military Wives is not a particularly good example of the genre. Its origins are clear enough. In telling a contemporary story about a choir of military wives whose husbands are serving in Afghanistan, the film openly acknowledges its debt as a fictional work drawing on the inspiration of seeing just such real-life choirs on Gareth Malone's TV programmes. But it is equally obvious that, by turning out feel good cinema that also allows for serious elements alongside lighter humorous touches, it is looking back to film hits of the 1990s. Here the tensions experienced by wives always mindful of the possibility of receiving news that their loved one have died or been injured co-exist with the uplifting aspects (the wives start a choir as a way of distracting themselves from their anxieties and gradually find it playing a central part in their lives). That such a blend could work was proved by both Brassed Off (1996) which featured a miners' brass band functioning at a time of pit closures and The Full Monty (1997) in which unemployed steel workers triumphed and regained their self-respect when stripping on stage.

 

The present piece written by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard merges its two tones aided by Lorne Balfe's music score, but the humorous scenes often seem banal and obvious and it is, of course, ridiculous (but typical of the genre) that a choir which starts out so ineptly should end up being chosen to sing at the Festival of Remembrance (that the event is held at the Royal Albert Hall underlines the borrowing from Brassed Off). Peter Cattaneo, the director here, is better known generally for his TV work but he did helm The Full Monty. However, while he keeps the film moving, the crucial weakness is that the characters lack the individuality of those featured in these past hits.

 

Furthermore, ideas are often touched on and then left largely undeveloped, as is the case with the tensions that arise between Lisa (Sharon Horgan) and her daughter Frankie (India Ria Amarteifio), the child of a mixed marriage. Rather more space is given to a recent bride (Amy James-Kelly) but even so, in a film in which women predominate without taking their clothes off (despite which Calendar Girls too may well have been an influence), the two main characters are Lisa herself and Kate, a Colonel's wife played by Kristin Scott Thomas. The latter is presented as well-meaning but imperious, a woman whose controlling instincts irritate Lisa. Class and generational differences also contribute to their clashes, but this leads nowhere except to an overwritten confrontation that nevertheless has to yield to a reconciliation as the genre demands.

 

Kate's comic side is not without a distant echo of Margo Leadbetter, the role so splendidly played by Penelope Keith in TV's The Good Life. Despite that, Kate is also given a tragic aspect (her son had himself died in Afghanistan) and, as though she is aware of the screenplay being weak, Kristin Scott Thomas lacks her usual assurance in this role. Indeed, at times her facial expressions are so emphasised that it is as though she is seeking to make up for shortcomings in the writing. In the circumstances it is Horgan who appears the one more at ease here. By the close any sense of reality has fled the scene, but that is often the nature of feel-good movies and fans of the genre may feel that my review is unduly harsh even if they do share my view that Military Wives falls short of the works that it echoes.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Jason Flemyng, Greg Wise, Amy James-Kelly, Lara Rossi, Gaby French, Emma Lowndes, India Ria Amarteifio, Laura Checkley, Karen Sampford, Ruth Horrocks, Roxy Faridany, Colin Mace, Sophie Dix, Robbie Gee.

 

Dir Peter Cattaneo, Pro Rory Aitken, Ben Pugh and Piers Tempest, Screenplay Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard, Ph Hubert Taczanowski, Pro Des John Beard, Ed Anne Sopel and Lesley Walker, Music Lorne Balfe, Costumes Jill Taylor.

 

42/Ingenious Media/Koliko Films/Tempo Productions Limited-Lionsgate.
112 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 6 March 2020. Cert. 12A.

Available on premium VOD from 27 March 2020.