Gender Studies: Wives In Wartime

This fluffy, regressive yet upbeat British comedy helps beat the coronavirus blues

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Military Wives
VOD

Opens May 22

There’s nothing remotely controversial or disruptive about Military Wives. Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn wrote this competently told story rooted in the healing power of community. It’s the kind of movie you could watch with your mom on a particularly grim day of the pandemic.

And right now, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

While Military Wives may not be edgy, it has plenty of pathos. Set on a military base in England during the Afghan war, the film revolves around the wives left behind while the husbands are on a tour of duty (not a terribly progressive set-up but let’s move on).

The queen bee is Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), a type-A busybody trying to cope with her son’s death in combat. But since leadership is linked to their spouses’ rank (as I said…), the one in charge of communal activities is Lisa (Sharon Horgan, Catastrophe), who has a more laissez-faire approach to life. They could just stay out of each other’s way, but since the wives are in dire need of distraction, the idea of a choir comes up.

It comes as no surprise that Lisa’s pop inclinations and Kate’s more classic sensibilities don’t mesh. What did come as a surprise is that I was thoroughly entertained, even charmed by the movie. It doesn’t hurt that Military Wives highlights the very real angst that comes with being married to an active service member during wartime.

Director Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) has the good sense to keep the two leads from becoming stereotypes. Kate may be tightly wound and controlling, but she’s also warm and sympathetic. Lisa’s carefree attitude comes across as aloof. If they were to get over themselves, they would actually complement each other.

The film’s centrepiece features a vicious argument between the two — a fight that leaves internal bruises, and will have you oohing and aahing at your TV. Indeed, the movie manages to avoid mawkishness until the end. But as predictable as the “public performance” plot device is, Military Wives has earned enough goodwill by then that you can’t help rooting for the women. Even though there are no stakes whatsoever.