Kristin Scott Thomas Sharon Horgan Gaby French India Ria Amarteifio
People don’t usually think much about the wives of military personnel, so to see a film about them as a group is a treat. Written by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard and directed by Peter Cattaneo, the story revolves around group dynamics when a bevy of not-likeminded souls are thrown together, and then teased/cajoled/pressured to see themselves as a group with an identity. Obviously with a clear understanding of how groups coalesce, the writers and director create a realistic account that is entrancing for the viewer, and based upon a real story.
The vehicle through which this group identity comes about is singing (first), which evolves into an actual choir. We are introduced first to the colonel’s wife, Kate (expertly—as always—played by Kristin Scott Thomas), who uses her station on the base to influence and command respect. But she is a newcomer, and attempts to over-ride Lisa (Horgan) who is put in charge of the wives’ activities, especially when their husbands are away on a mission. Kate quickly gets the impression that Lisa is not an experienced leader, and is ready to impose her more “cultural” will on the group. Their initial interactions make the viewer (at least this female reviewer) cringe, dreading the usual “cat fight” that follows in so many films.
It’s like two cultures coming at each other gangbusters, but with a feminine veneer. I say “veneer” because that is how the conflict is typically portrayed of women. But these characters have more substance. And the processes through which they do come together ring unbelievably true. It’s rewarding to see two women work out a complicated relationship through the essential give-and-take that working through requires.
It is seeing how those processes go forward that constitute the humor and drama of Military Wives. We may guess how everything is going to turn out, but it’s the journey there, along with the human truths displayed, which makes the film a joy to see.
Kristin Scott Thomas has had a long career in successful films, one of which (The English Patient) received an Academy Award for Best Picture, along with a number of personal awards for her accomplishments. I have always gotten the impression she chooses the films she is in for a reason, either its meaningfulness to her personally or its message for its audience. She has always been one of my favorites so much so that I will see any film in which she appears. Here, she once again does a masterful job in evincing the gradual changes that occur in a character over time when dealing with social/emotional issues that will humanize her.
Thomas’ co-star, Sharon Horgan as Kate’s primary competitor fully meets her halfway, and the two of them achieve such anin-sync performance it’s entertaining just to watch them perform. I’m not as familiar with Horgan’s work—which has been primarily in British television—but she demonstrates quality in nuance and range in this film that attests to her skill.
Other characters in Military Wives are colorful and hold your attention, such as the reluctant but talented singer played by Gaby French, the cheeky teenage daughter played by India Ria Amarteifio, and the wife of a new recruit played by Emma Lowndes.
What two leaders of a military base choir accomplished made such an impression, the idea spread throughout the military, with over 75 choirs now active across UK bases.
Altogether, Military Wives is an entertaining, uplifting film that will engage you, entertain you, and sometimes make you cry in depicting human truths.