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Non-Review Review: Military Wives

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Military Wives is illustrates the appeal in hitting the right notes off the sheet music.

Military Wives is the latest entry in a particularly popular subgenre of midbudget film, the type of movie about a quirky hobby against the backdrop of everyday British life. There are any number of examples, from Swimming With Men to Finding Your Feet to Calendar Girls, arguably extending out to more class-conscious examples like Billy Elliot and Brassed Off. Perhaps the most iconic and successful example, the film which proved the international viability of the format, remains The Full Monty. These are films that largely hinge on an appealing juxtaposition between perceived British stoicism and enjoyable eccentricity.

Military Wives is loosely based on a true story of the military wives choir that became a minor national sensation when it played the Festival of Remembrance in 2011. Indeed, they went on to have a Christmas number one with their song Wherever You Are. However, Military Wives hews very closely to the established template. Once again, there is a conflict between stoicism and whimsy. The stoicism is of the most sombre sort, with the story focusing on the wives of soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, waiting to hear word home. The whimsy arises from the juxtaposition of having those wives sing Yazoo and Tears For Fears.

Military Wives never deviates too far from the template, but it doesn’t have to. Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn’s script understands why this sort of story works, and director Peter Cattaneo (a veteran of The Full Monty) is smart enough to trust actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan to carry the film. There is occasionally a sense that Military Waves is working from a rough sketch rather than a finished plan, but it is mostly built to specifications.

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