There is a certain kind of British feel-good movie that, while predictable, still packs an emotional punch. Movies like “The Full Monty” and “Calendar Girls” are underdog tales, filled with colorful characters and improbable situations, yet, somehow, they rate a fist pump in the air by the time the end credits roll.
“Military Wives,” starring Kristin Scott Thomas and coming this week to VOD, is cut from that same cloth. A story of resilience tempered with large dollops of sentimentality, it’s a heartwarming drama about the healing powers of friendship and music.
Based on the BBC docu-series “The Choir,” the film is set at a small military base outside London. The year is 2011 and Kate (Thomas) has just said goodbye to her husband (Greg Wise) as he left for Afghanistan for the fifth time. It’s more poignant goodbye than usual as it is the first deployment since the death of their son, a soldier who perished while in service.
Meanwhile, Lisa (Sharon Horgan) the base’s welfare officer, in charge of coming up with ways to keep the wives and partners of the soldiers occupied and entertained. At one meeting, however, Kate takes over. “Let’s come up with some exciting activities to do while our service people are away.” The idea of forming a choir is raised and implemented, which only amplifies the differences between the laidback Lisa and hard-driving Kate. “This reminds me of when my parents got divorced,” says one choir member as Lisa and Kate passive-aggressively jab at one another in rehearsal.
The early practices do not yield musical result. They sound “like the incantations of a bunch of witches,” says Lisa, but with time a bond forms between the members, both personally and musically. These women, who live in fear of a bad-news phone call or knock at the door, find strength together and when tragedy strikes the choir becomes more important than ever. “You may not need the choir Lisa,” Kate says, “but those women do.”
Nothing in “Military Wives” will come as a surprise. Beat for beat it echoes the ups-and-downs of “The Full Monty’s” moments of triumph and tragedy. Peter Cattaneo directed both, and while it feels a bit been there, done that, I’d add, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Predictability is “Military Wives’” biggest sin. But the familiarity is blunted by the performances—Thomas expertly portrays the bubbling anger and heartbreak hidden behind Kate’s smiling façade—inspirational messages of comradery and the way it portrays the women’s strength in the face of grief and loss.