You’ll probably know from my many blogs and podcasts that I’ve found my ten years of military life a bit of a struggle. As a couple, my husband and I have faced constant tours to Afghanistan, short notice deployments to hurricanes and earthquakes and, just to keep things interesting, four house moves since our wedding five years ago. But if you are living in the military community, you’ll know more than anyone that this isn’t that unusual.
Many of us in this community experienced those tough 13 years of the Afghanistan conflict. During the hot summers of 2010-2013 the British Armed Forces suffered terrible losses, all of which were repatriated to RAF Lyneham and so well honoured at Royal Wootton Bassett.
But during that time something new and very exciting happened in parallel. Over in Catterick Garrison, wives were singing together to survive a particularly hard tour, and suggested to Gareth Malone that others might benefit from singing too. Chivenor, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Lympstone choirs quickly followed and starred in their own TV series that led to a Christmas No.1 album. My own choirs (RAF Brize Norton, North London and The Defence Academy) joined the gang quickly after. A movement had started!
And now, our story is being told on the big screen in “Military Wives”, a new film by Lionsgate. I was lucky enough to be invited to one of the press screenings in a snazzy London members’ club. That club was a world away from the magnolia box I am used to, but as the film progressed it didn’t take long before my surroundings disappeared and I was taken back to those Afghanistan years.
I am not going to lie, I was sceptical, especially when within the first few minutes, the Colonel’s wife drives up to the base gates and says to the poor gate guard: ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ Oh dear I thought, here we are with the stereotypes…but how wrong could I be!
The film focuses on an Army base in Yorkshire as an Army regiment prepare to leave for a six-month tour of Afghanistan. The story follows the ‘fictional’ wives going about their business as we get to know them. There’s instant conflict as the Regimental Sergeant Major’s wife, Lisa (Sharon Horgan) bangs heads with the Colonel’s wife, Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) over how they both feel would be the best way to support the wives left behind.
Image © Lionsgate UK
A choir is formed and the usual hilarity we have all experienced in our own choir begins. There’s the spontaneous bursting into song, the cheeky altos, the one that can’t sing, the one that can sing but is too shy, the constant inappropriate giggles, and oh SO MANY TEARS!
The realism in this film is like nothing I have seen before when it comes to on-screen depictions of true military life. I won’t go into details here, as there are plenty of reviews telling you what happens, but sprinkled throughout this film are tiny pain points that will pierce your heart as if you were back in that time. The phone call from the ‘unknown number’ that makes your tummy flip that turns out to be someone asking about PPI, those big white busses taking them away, the time you spot someone in uniform out of context and just for a moment think the worst. But the bit that really broke me was the arrival of the blueys in the post. I sat there in floods of tears, a little bit due to film but mostly for all of us that went through that time.
This film just takes you back to those long, painful summers, and then flips to the joy we felt as our choirs started to grow into the wonderful support systems they became. Because after all, the Military Wives Choirs aren’t really about the singing (although the rush of endorphins you get is handy). For me they are actually about the support. Being able to walk into a room and be surrounded by people that just ‘get it’ without having to explain is invaluable. To be able to laugh and cry with a group of others who understand and will have your back and be your family though those horrible deployments.
With very little focus on operations and the majority of the story being about the choir, Military Wives really is OUR story. There weren’t even any explosions!
This film is a massive roller-coaster of emotions, you WILL need tissues. I walked out of the screening an emotional wreck, having laughed, cried and sang along – but I also left walking tall. I don’t know how we managed to get through those deployments, but we did. I am so proud of my fellow military spouses but most of all I am proud that something very special and unexpected resulted from that terrible conflict, our choirs.
Released on the 6th of March Military Wives, is a major motion picture directed by Oscar® Nominee Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and starring BAFTA®-Winner Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour) and BAFTA® Nominee Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) and a cast of women of all ages.
Inspired by the incredible true story of friendship, love and support on the home front, the film shows a group of women come together as their partners serve in Afghanistan. Together they form the very first military wives choir, helping each other through some of life’s most difficult moments and becoming a media sensation and global movement in the process.
Military Wives is a feelgood heart-warming comedy that will once again inspire the nation.
You can listen to my own interview with some of the original Military Wives Choirs members who experienced the formation of the choirs over on The InDependent Spouse podcast series.
I’ll also be featuring in the new film podcast series…
Join Gaby Roslin as she hosts the brand new Military Wives: The Official Film Podcast, with exclusive interviews with #MilitaryWives stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan as we look forward to the film’s release. Episode 1 will be available to listen and download on Tuesday 18th February. Subscribe now: https://pod.link/militarywives