Thursday, June 25, 2020

Military Wives – a warm and pleasing middle section slightly let down by the overture and finale (digital download from 29 June, DVD/Blu-ray from 6 July)

Military Wives tells a fictionalised version of the real story of the formation of a choir made up of partners and spouses on a UK army base story. You may have watched The Choir: Military Wives in which Gareth Malone nurtured the original group and brought them to the Festival of Remembrance in London in November 2011.

If you can bear with this filmic version of Military Wives beyond the irritating overture as the premise and the necessary antagonism are established (they lay it on just a bit too thick) then you are rewarded with a beautiful middle section. The set-up is that with the company of soldiers posted overseas in Afghanistan, it is important that the families left behind on base are kept busy. On top of coffee mornings and knitting circles, a choir is suggested.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Kate, a stiff colonel’s wife who is grieving the loss of her son and meddles in the organisation of activities that should fall to Lisa (Sharon Horgan), whose husband is newly promoted and she’s still adapting to the expectation that she’s now a leader too. Horgan revels in the physical comedy and emotional rattiness of her character.

Along the way there are some very ropey rehearsals – Lara Rossi’s deep and loud vocals deserve special mention, as does the impromptu rendition of Only You under a stone bridge which sounded superb) – as well as lots of insecurity and bumps to the group’s self-confidence.

The aftermath of Lisa’s daughter’s wild night out (smartly played by India Ria Amarteifio) and an inevitable tragedy that hits the base bring a pathos to the piece that rescues what could have just been a film about some very amateur singers. Instead, the narrative becomes one of how communities can support each other.

With the real choir’s haunting performance of Wherever You Are in the Royal Albert Hall still vivid in British viewers’ memories, the film’s alternative song is high concept and lyrically strong, but melodically too weak to hit the necessary crescendo to end the 112 minute film. For local audiences, a stronger finish would have cut the story just as the signers walked out towards the stage, and certainly culled the unnatural chit chat afterwards.

Sandwiched in-between the stale crusts, Military Wives has a warm-hearted tale that’s well acted and well told. Appearing in local cinemas in the days immediately before screens went dark due to lockdown, Military Wives will be available for digital download from 29 June, and on DVD and Blu-ray from 6 July.

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