Twenty-two years after The Full Monty (and eleven since his last film, the ill-fated The Rocker), director Peter Cattaneo is back with Military Wives. Getting its wide debut on Hulu after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, the film dramatizes the creation of the first military wives choir of the British Armed Forces. (In the decade since, that one choir has spawned the creation of more than 75.)
The film kicks off with the deployment of UK troops to Afghanistan in 2009, leaving behind an Amry base full of worrying wives and children. As the wife of the regiment’s Sergeant-Major, Lisa (Sharon Horgan) is anointed their de facto leader—responsible for boosting morale by organizing activities like knitting circles and book clubs. When the straight-laced Colonel’s-wife Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) decides to lend a hand, oil meets water, and the film gets is foundational friction.
Eventually, the idea of starting a choir is floated, and where Lisa is content to have the group pass the time by slogging through an unrefined hash of 80s songs, Kate insists on arpeggio warm-ups and structured musical arrangements; if they’re going to do it, they need to do it right.
It’s no secret, of course, that the women eventually get on track and band together for a powerful performance at the annual Festival of Remembrance at Royal Albert Hall. Indeed, Military Wives follows the ol’ Scrappy Underdog Playbook to the letter, as the ragamuffin, off-key ladies all come together over the course of the film’s two hours, just in time for a triumphant finale. There’s plenty of realism (both tragic and comedic) along the way, giving the largely pedestrian script by Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn a little more oomph, but it’s not enough come film’s end.
Cattaneo certainly doesn’t turn any heads with his direction—and it would be easy to say that he doesn’t really need to, given the feel-good nature of the wives’ story. Indeed, had he not done such a bang-up job with The Full Monty, it’s possible people wouldn’t have batted an eye with the so-so Military Wives. Knowing what could have been, though, makes it a bit disappointing that the film comes off more as a mid-day television matinee than a sweeping film worthy of the choir’s story.
Despite its standing as a generally paint-by-numbers flick and the fact that it never quite captures the free-wheeling yet heartfelt spirit of Cattaneo’s 1997 comedy classic, Military Wives is, nonetheless, still pleasant and uplifting enough to warrant a watch. It’s a happy little ditty, if you will—a perfectly nice way to pass the time while stuck on the couch with nowhere to go.