Combine the inherent pathos of a group of army spouses waiting for their partners to return from war with the sure-fire inspirational uplift of preparing for an important musical performance and you get the dependable-to-a-fault British film “Military Wives.”
Upon seeing their men (and one woman) deployed to Afghanistan, the women of Flitcroft Garrison have little choice but to bide their time with their nation’s trademark stiff upper lip. Most of the wives would be content to meet for coffee in the mornings and share alcohol in the evenings but after a failed attempt at a knitting club, Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), the wife of a colonel (Greg Wise), initiates the formation of a choir and meets more than a little resistance.
Kate engages in a battle of wills with Lisa (“Catastrophe’s” Sharon Horgan), who reluctantly inherited a leadership role with her husband’s recent promotion. Lisa’s laidback, improvisational style clashes with Kate’s organized, patrician approach, but the pair gradually form an uneasy cross-class alliance as the other women realize how much they need the choir. The group features the usual menagerie of archetypes — including the newlywed (Amy James-Kelly) young enough to be Kate’s daughter, the shy songbird (Gaby French) who finds her voice and the off-key enthusiast (Lara Rossi) whose vocal offerings must be camouflaged without hurting her feelings.
Sisterhood is forged amid the warbling of tunes made famous by the Human League, Cyndi Lauper and the Spice Girls, and the women learn they are “stronger together” (the motto of the real life group that inspired the movie). An unexpected invitation to perform at a nationally televised event at London’s Royal Albert Hall raises the stakes considerably and sets in motion the required obstacles. When tragedy inevitably strikes, the wives (mostly) keep calm and carry on.
Written by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard, and directed by Peter Cattaneo (“The Full Monty”), the film crisply follows standard operating procedures for both the bonding-via-singing and martial weepie genres. No surprises await, but the performances by Scott Thomas, Horgan and company and some pleasant harmonizing make “Military Wives” palatable Memorial Day weekend viewing.
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Playing: Available May 22 on Hulu and VOD