You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Military Wives’

Though their husbands are on a dangerous six-month deployment, the women of this charmer about a camp choir find a reason to sing

Peter Cattaneo
Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Jason Flemyng,

Running time: 112 MIN.

“We don’t have the privilege to be against the war,” tuts a British wife to a peace activist. “We’re married to it.” Technically, she means married to an active-duty soldier, but as far as “Military Wives” director Peter Cattaneo is concerned, there’s little to distinguish the Afghanistan-sent men these left-to-fend-for-themselves ladies love from the machine that deploys them. When their spouses lose communication, each wife on the base gets an impersonal text at the same time, a chorus of pings and buzzes that simultaneously spook every house.

To distract themselves from negative thoughts, the anxious women form their own choir under the leadership of two officers’ wives, Lisa (Sharon Horgan of TV’s “Catastrophe”) and Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), who jockey to decide whether they’ll sing pop songs or hymns. Lisa is the chillaxed mom of a binge-drinking teen girl (India Ria Amarteifio) who could learn to wield military discipline; Kate is all pearls and protocol, until she unleashes tension buying doodads on the home shopping channel. Their major fights all happen on tempo before the inevitable Big Show. Still, their lumpen, off-key, Cyndi Lauper-belting group activity gives them human connection — and gives the audience a tidy two-hour crowd-pleaser designed to squeeze out a few tears. Cattaneo, the director of the 1997 hit “The Full Monty,” could conduct this kind of charming, predictable entertainment with one hand while the theater hums along.

If you’ve seen even one based-on-a-true-story British misfit hobbyists movie, you already know the tune.

Popular on Variety

Cattaneo captures the banality of the women’s near-identical homes, all with walls painted the same godawful shade of beige, and the boredom that leads these housewives to continually open bottles of wine. Yet, each handles their six-month separation a little differently. Lisa boxes up her husband’s things as though he doesn’t exist, refusing to laugh when he models his kevlar underwear. Kate pretends everything is fine. Others create a countdown calendar for their kids, or cut-and-paste their own heads on softcore magazines they mail to Kabul. Initially, they suggest forming a club for needlework, knitting or baking, and seem mildly abashed to hew to homemaker stereotypes. (Only Lisa appears to have a job of sorts as the clerk of the base’s convenience store.) When Cattaneo drags them outside to perform in the local village, they’re so startled by skateboards and beeping trucks you’d think they’d been in solitary confinement.

Military Wives” respects the sacrifices these women have made for a war no one in the film seems interested in justifying. More than 450 U.K. soldiers have died in Afghanistan, which means the audience anticipates one of the women getting that heartbreaking door knock. Mostly, however, the flick is out for laughs, and has stocked the choir with oddballs who each have a signature joke. Ruby (Lara Rossi) has a godawful caterwaul. Jess (Gaby French) is petrified with stage fright, and Annie (Emma Lowndes) is just plain weird. Amy James-Kelly as Sarah, the youngest of the clique who impulsively married her high school sweetheart, has great, big, teary eyes that she bats to get laughs and sniffles.

Screenwriters Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard wrote “Military Wives” to be a ballad to female unity. To do so, they had to change most of the facts. In real life, the choirmaster was neither Lisa nor Kate but a male reality show host who took on the project for a 2011 TV series called “The Choir: Military Wives.” As for the climatic song that Lisa pens in a montage strewn with scrap paper and pacing, that was written by the same male composer who penned Prince William and Princess Catherine’s wedding tune, which the real singers performed for Queen Elizabeth II. Scrappy underdogs, these aren’t.

But who cares about truth when Cattaneo has selected a hit-list of vintage karaoke classics from Dido to The Human League. “Don’t you want me, baby?” the ladies croon. Enough ticket-buyers will say yes.

Toronto Film Review: 'Military Wives'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 6, 2019. Running time: 112 MIN.

Production: An Ingenious Media presentation in association with Embankment Films of a 42 production in association with Tempo Prods. (Int'l sales: Embankment Films, London.) Producers: Ben Pugh, Rory Aitken, Piers Tempest. Executive producers: Peter Touche, Orlando Wood, Hana Canter, Emma Willis, René Besson, Zygi Kamasa, Stephen Spence, Emma Berkofsky, Tim Haslam, Hugo Grumbar, Liz Gallacher, Josh Varney, Josh Horsfield, Jo Bamford.

Crew: Director: Peter Cattaneo. Screenplay: Rosanne Flynn, Rachel Tunnard. Camera (color): Hubert Taczanowski. Editor: Anne Sopel. Music: Lorne Balfe.

With: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Jason Flemyng,Lara Rossi, Gaby French, Emma Lowndes, Amy James-Kelly.

More Film


    Asier Altuna Preps Basque Historical Drama ‘Karmele the Hour of Waking Together’

    Basque cinema is booming, and director Asier Altuna is part of the vanguard leading it forward. The Spanish filmmaker, behind 2005 Youth Award winner “Aupa Etxebeste!” and 2015 Best Basque Film “Amama” at the San Sebastián Intl. Film Festival, attended this year’s Ventana Sur Proyecta sidebar with his next project, “Karmele, the Hour of Waking [...]

  • The Day is Long and Dark

    Francisco Barreiro Cast in Upcoming Julio Hernández Cordón Project (EXCLUSIVE)

    Julio Hernández Cordón, one of Mexico’s most-awarded independent filmmakers over the last decade, has found the leading man for his next feature “The Day is Long and Dark (My Friends are Vampires),” in Fantastic Fest best actor winner Francisco Barreiro, star of Adrián García Bogliano’s “Here Comes the Devil.”. Barreiro’s casting was shared with Variety from Buenos [...]

  • Macabre

    Rio Fest’s Compact Edition Opens Amidst Sectorial Crisis

    RIO DE JANEIRO  — The 21st Rio Intl. Film Fest opens Monday Dec. 9t with the screening of Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” in the Odeon landmark theater. The smaller than usual edition, which was almost cancelled due to the lack of municipal backing, reflects the crisis of Brazil’s film sector, involved in a battle with the administration [...]

  • Papa-YouTuber

    Peru’s ‘Papa YouTuber’ Goes Global (EXCLUSIVE)

    Argentine sales agency FilmSharks Int’l label The Remake Company has sold remake rights at Ventana Sur to Peruvian family comedy hit “Papa YouTuber” (“YouTuber Dad”) to Mexico’s Cinepolis and Italy’s Colorado Films, with several other territories pending. Advanced discussions are underway in Germany, with Spain, France and the U.S. also pending. “The U.S. deal will [...]

  • Elia Suleiman attends the screening of

    'Pleasure Is Extremely Political,' Palestinian Filmmaker Elia Suleiman Says

    In a freewheeling masterclass held at the Marrakech Film Festival on Thursday, director Elia Suleiman offered as concise a mission statement as can be, defining his guiding beliefs in four short words. “Pleasure is extremely political,” said the Palestinian director, whose films have approached the fraught nature of life in the occupied territories with a [...]

  • Panel-Ventana-Sur-2019-1

    Ventana Sur: Industry Luminaries Converge, Talk Women In Cinema

    BUENOS AIRES – Ventana Sur’s Opening Windows conference series welcomed an esteemed line-up of women in film to Buenos Aires’ UCA campus on Wednesday afternoon for a panel that sought to familiarize the audience with the enormous weight of breaking into a male-dominated industry throughout the years. Among the panelists was Argentine Producer Lita Stantic, [...]


    Eurimages Winning Project ‘Almamula’ Stands Out at Ventana Sur’s Proyecta

    Juan Sebastian Torales arrived at this year’s Ventana Sur Proyecta showcase for Latin American projects as one of the event’s most buzzed up debutants with his upcoming semi-autobiographical feature “Almamula.” In September, Torales and producer Pilar Peredo, from France’s Tu Vas Voir, pitched the project at San Sebastian’s Co-production Forum, where it won the Eurimages [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content