Three and a half stars
Director: Peter Cattaneo
Starring: Kristin Thomas, Sharon Horgan
Running: time 112 minutes
Verdict: Strikes all the right emotional chords
FOLLOWING hot on the heels of Fishermen’s Friends, based on the true story of a rag-tag bunch of Cornish sea shanty singers who made it to the top of the UK charts, comes Military Wives, about an amateur choir that is invited to perform at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
This heart-tugging British dramedy might be singing an familiar tune, but there’s enough texture in director Peter (The Full Monty) Cattaneo’s arrangement to keep things interesting.
The film takes its inspiration from a real group of women who formed a choir in North Yorkshire in 2010 while their spouses were deployed in Afghanistan and there are moments when that lived experience shines through.
It’s more what the characters don’t say that lends Military Wives’ formulaic plot a welcome note of authenticity. And what the characters don’t do.
Kristin Scott Thomas’s buttoned-up officer’s wife, Kate, for example, comes across as a bit of a cardigan-and-pearls caricature — until she is called upon to support a woman whose husband has died in battle.
The assumption is that having been through the experience herself (Kate’s soldier son was killed while on active duty), she will be able of offer some kind of solace,
But since the older woman is still numb with her own grief, the best she can do is encourage the distraught widow to drink her tea.
The relationship between Kate’s authority-averse co-conductor Lisa (Sharon Horgan), and her rebellious teenage daughter is just as emotionally inarticulate.
Such honest, everyday interactions counteract the film’s more predictable plot points – Kate’s eleventh-hour dash to the concert hall after an emotional showdown with her arch rival, for example — and the way the filmmakers shamelessly manipulate us: for laughs, in the case of the tone-deaf singer, or tears, in the expertly handled funeral scene.
Cattaneo could execute this score with a blindfold on. He knows exactly which strings to pluck. And when.
It helps that the chorister’s a cappella version of songs like Yazoo’s Only You aren’t so Pitch Perfect as to be completely implausible, and that the reluctant soloist’s pure, sweet vocals are so well suited to her material.
Even though we know exactly where we are headed, Military Wives’ final number — compiled from fragments of the women’s letters — strikes just the right emotional chord.