Published in City A.M., March ’20
If someone decided to make a film adaptation of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, it would probably turn out a bit like Military Wives.
Directed by The Full Monty’s Peter Cattaneo, it’s a similar tale of good old-fashioned British grit triumphing against the odds – except instead of steelworkers it’s about soldiers’ wives, and instead of psyching themselves up to expose their genitals, they’re psyching themselves up to perform at the Royal Albert Hall.
The misfit gang of women form a choir on their military base to distract themselves when their partners are posted to Afghanistan, and are picked to sing in the televised Festival of Remembrance (it’s roughly based on Gareth Malone’s reality TV series The Choir: Military Wives, except they’ve sacked off poor Gareth). Cue nerves, drama and bickering – the chief proponents being the odd couple tasked with running the choir.
Horgan’s Lisa is a trendy, next-gen army wife – we know this because she wears converse, drinks beer and can’t knit. She doesn’t want anything to do with the choir, but she’s obligated because of her husband’s recent promotion. Scott Thomas plays Kate, the colonel’s wife and a stuck-up, stiff-upper-lip stick-in-the-mud who offers Lisa her unwanted ‘help’ to distract herself from the loss of her son.
She turns her nose up at everything from the 80s pop songs the women want to sing to their life choices, all the while looking like she’s about to muck out a stable.
Watching the pair’s hatred for each other straining against the veneer of their middle-class politeness is enjoyable enough, but the serious strand of the plot pushes all the standard emotional buttons so lazily that you begrudge any tears that may come to your eye. You can see the crushingly predictable dramatic climax coming a mile off, and it cheapens the whole endeavour.
Like a cup of sweet tea, Military Wives goes down easy and is vaguely comforting. If you’re after anything more than that, keep calm and carry on.