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1 April 2020
There are some films that male reviewers watch which they feel somewhat unqualified to judge. They address issues of a deeply personal nature for women which men can appreciate but never fully experience. Military Wives falls into that category. It’s a true story that presents the pain and longing wives, mothers and lovers go through as they watch their dearest depart for dangerous territories, possibly never to return. I think, like many men, I was unaware of their quiet suffering. Yet, like all viewers, there is something I can take away from the way they learn to cope.
Military Wives is directed by Peter Cattaneo, the mind behind the 1997 comedy The Full Monty. It’s set on a military base in the north of England where the families of the enlisted are farewelling their loved ones as they leave for Afghanistan. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Kate, the prim and proper wife of the brigade’s commander. This is the fifth time she has seen her husband depart for a tour of dangerous territory. Playing opposite is Sharon Horgan as Lisa, the wife of the newly promoted Regimental Sergeant Major. Her informal responsibility is to keep up the spirits of the loved ones left behind, though she’d much rather remain ‘one of the gang’. When Kate, the Colonel’s wife, decides she’ll take a hand in organising respectable and non-alcoholic pastimes for the women, a choir is formed. The stage is set for a tussle between two very different personalities, but neither Kate nor Lisa are aware of the life-changing effects their little musical exercise will have.
Military Wives presents the real, appreciable pains of women married to the military. In a single conversation, two wives express both the uncertainty that clouds their days and their inability to do anything about it:
Sarah: I feel sick all the time. Every time the phone rings, every time the doorbell rings. How do you cope? Do you talk about it?
Maz: Let’s have some wine.
The choir begins as a means of just keeping their minds off the dangerous work their loved ones might be doing, and begins badly. The women involved are so tone deaf and divided that their singing sounds more like “… the incantations of a bunch of witches”. But as they find music that conveys their real feelings, a new and beautiful voice emerges. When they decide to put lines from the letters they write to their husbands to music, it was enough to send this reviewer reaching for his handkerchief:
“10:30 tonight I’ll be looking at the moon.
That’s 1:30 for you.
Will you be looking there too?
These are the simple things
That help me get through.”
And that, in a nutshell, is the question Military Wives poses. How do we get through the hardest times in our lives? For the characters, it begins with community and a shared understanding of the pressures. As good as these are, it becomes clear something more will be required: sacrifice for the sake of the other. Kate is ready to sit with the wife of a soldier who’s been killed in action, despite the dark memories it raises of her own son’s loss. Likewise, Lisa is prepared to sacrifice the perfect lyric because it pains her older friend to hear it sung. And when we see something like this being played out on the big screen, we’ll naturally long to live in such relationships. Sadly, studies suggest that, despite our numerous technologies, we’ve never felt more disconnected. However, the Bible assures us that a Military Wives relationship is in reach of us all.
When Jesus Christ’s enemies wanted to insult him, they called him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” — the greatest outcasts in his society. Yet the Bible draws a line between everyone who has rejected God and that label ‘sinner’, for the sake of showing us just what a friend he can be for us:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
I was moved more than once by the sacrificial love Military Wives promotes. But I was comforted too. I could recognise the community and shared understanding, and particularly depth of devotion displayed, because I’ve experienced it in my relationship with Jesus. If you want to enjoy a feel-good film, then Military Wives is for you. And if you want to feel what it so lovingly displays, then the Bible says you can have that too.