There are films that come along in cinemas each year which will look similar to something else, maybe a plot resembles one from a film ten years previously, or a certain actor is playing a similar character. I get this kind of feeling a lot when it comes to a certain stable of British films.
They’re not necessarily bad, but their overwhelming familiarity gives me a sense of twee-ness and romanticism that is hard to properly describe. They usually consist of a simple plot based around one particular community, just as an example, think of Fisherman’s Friend from last year. An ‘unlikely star’ plot based around a typically British town and typically British people.
The Military Wives themselves won’t be unfamiliar to a certain percentage of the audience, I seem to remember a Military Wives choir having a Christmas number one a few years ago, the choir led by Gareth Malone, who looks like a bow tie grew a human to carry it around.
This film is not quite that story, there are elements from all sorts of different real-life stories, I suspect, and it is clever of them to make the leading group of people so easy to sympathise with, the military and everyone surrounding them does create a feeling of empathy and pride in what they do, and wives left behind by men fighting on the front-line are certainly not immune from this.
The plot revolves around one military garrison and the women living there while the soldiers are away, there is an attempt to create a diverse bunch of characters, but these do often fall into certain archetypes (including some ones you wouldn’t normally associate with female characters, like the football fanatic, which is a subversion of expectation, at least). That being said though, I do admire the restraint to not make them the kind of female characters in war films we usually see, that is, women who have no purpose other than waiting for their husbands.
Indeed, it feels like there is a general push-back against that kind of idea, most of the women are feisty, independent types, and the ones that aren’t are developed enough as characters to show why they might be meek or less outgoing than their peers. there is an effort to make these women feel like actual people, as opposed to the cardboard cut-out facsimiles we’re used to seeing in war films.
This group of characters are let down somewhat by the leading two ladies, Kate and Lisa, played by Kirsten Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan, respectively. Starting with Kate, she can’t be said to have a stick up her arse, more like an entire tree. She’s so upright and stiff it becomes hard to like her, at best she’s overbearing and at worst she’s completely insufferable.
Lisa is more of a head-strong character, but even her flits madly between caring and callous. Their inevitable character clash leads to an even more inevitable final stretch, which feels like something that script writing software would fill in for you. It’s very heartfelt and touching, but in the easiest way possible.
The highlights of the film are in the middle sections, where it feels like the plot gains a few teeth, and ups the stakes in a believable way, bringing the characters closer together before trying to tear them apart again.
The most interesting characters and performances are supporting ones, given the abrasive nature of the leading characters, the rest of the group needed to shoulder the load in redeeming character traits. By far the most interesting is the youngest wife, newly arrived on base, she gets a nicely plotted arc, which is incredibly sad, but also very rewarding.
Elsewhere, the aforementioned archetypes are strong, but they’re performed extremely earnestly, they feel like a group of frustrated women, thrown together by circumstance, because that’s exactly what they are, and it was nice to see that addressed; it doesn’t feel like the film is trying to lionise the status of ‘military wife’ rather, it just shows it as being a fact of life for these women, and that’;s refreshing in itself.
Speaking of, the morality of the military operations involved in the background of the plot are handled fairly evenly. It doesn’t feel like the writer or director is influencing the audience either way; it treats the military and those within it with respect, but it also isn’t afraid of pointing out public opinion towards that particular war (the Afghanistan conflict) and treating that argument fairly too, it’s all admirable to not alienate either side in a situation like this.
While it doesn’t feel like it pushes any boats out as a film, and does teeter on the edge of being fairly irritating thanks to its two lead characters, it does have a lot of heart and well-meaning, and succeeds in crafting a group of characters who aren’t defined by their closeness to the military, it feels like they’re distinct characters, something that helps drive home how suddenly their situation can go horribly wrong.
It does take a fairly easy route for creating sympathy, but there is enough here to enjoy, as long as you don’t mind a few overbearing characters, and a fairly predictable plot.