Opening this year’s MINI British Film Festival is Peter Cattaneo’s Military Wives.
Based on a true story, this gentle and moving film tells the story of the first military wives choir, of which there are now hundreds around the world (including Australia). Cattaneo, along with screenwriters Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard, has chosen to tell this story through fictionalized characters, developed after talking to many real wives and members of the military.
At a garrison in England, most of the regiment is sent off for a six-month tour in Afghanistan. Left behind are their wives and partners, most with young children. Lisa, played by the wonderful Sharon Horgan, wife of the newly promoted Regimental Sergeant-Major is expected to organize the rest of the wives. As a no-nonsense woman she thinks that coffee mornings and a lot of wine should do the trick. Colonel’s wife Kate (the always impeccable Kristen Scott Thomas) has other ideas, and the two clash.
Military Wives is a moving, humorous and relentlessly warm movie. At one stage during opening night, the entire cinema gave up pretending they weren’t crying and just sobbed openly. This is the type of work the British do particularly well, presenting some of the most visceral emotions with deft underplaying that counter-intuitively increases the emotional stakes.
But this is not just a moving tribute to the strength of those left behind. It also portrays how the class and rank system in the British military pervades even the non-serving partners, and how female friendships develop even within that difficult structure.
Essentially this is a simple tale, told very well. The humour and charm never lag, and the narrative remains true to its remit. You would have to be made of asbestos not to be moved and delighted by this work.
Military Wives is currently screening as part of the MINI British Film Festival at PalaceNova Eastend and Prospect.
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