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Military Wives | Review

They Could Go on Singing: Cattaneo Conducts Choir in Formulaic Melodrama

Peter Cattaneo Military Wives Review Director Peter Cattaneo resurfaces for his first narrative feature in over a decade with Military Wives, a formulaic but heartwarming crowd-pleaser of an effort which plays quite similarly to his 1997 breakout debut The Full Monty, a film which scored a gaggle of Academy Award nominations and marked him as one of the most notable British directors of the late 1990s. Recruiting the star wattage of Kristin Scott Thomas and celebrated comic actress Sharon Horgan as his two leads, juxtaposed in a classic Type A/Type B dynamic, his latest is roughly based on the true story of the formation of the UK’s first military wives’ choir (of which there are now 75, we learn in the end credits). Highly predictable but not without some poignant, empathetic peaks afforded its focal point characters, it’s a patriotic homage to the emotional resiliency often left forgotten in the fumes conflict.

When their husbands are called to Afghanistan, a group of military wives managed by Kate (Thomas) are called upon to engage in a communal activity on their base. “Keep busy,” is her mantra, especially after recently losing her son while her husband has volunteered for another tour to deal with his own grief. Manhandling a group think session with the wives, she commandeers Lisa (Sharon Horgan) to co-direct a choir. The women seem to gravitate towards the experience and circumstances find them invited to a major military event to perform their skills, necessitating they take their craft seriously.

Reminiscent of something like A League of Their Own (1992), but without the glossy pizzazz, Military Wives actually plays like the gender reversal of the same formula used on the out-of-work steelworkers who decide to bare it all in The Full Monty. Once again, Cattaneo prizes homosocial bonding underlined by the most heteronormative of values, with a dash of prickly choir practice dynamics which feels akin to the camp of “Schitt’s Creek.” We’ve seen Thomas play these rigid conservative types before, so her casting is ideal, if not really a stretch for her talents. The real showrunner is Horgan, who gets to play the more well-rounded Lisa with finesse. Everyone else feels like a stock character utilized as a dramatic catalyst when necessary.

Some inspired song choices for the choir include the 1983 track “Only You” by The Flying Pickets, but this quickly turns into more predictable territory when we’re graced with Cyndi Lauper and an egregious use of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.”


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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