I am pretty sure I am not the target demographic for the movie “Military Wives.” Yet to my surprise I found myself getting emotional watching an initially discordant group of women belting out Tears for Fears “Shout” and Human League’s “Don’t you Want Me.” This turns out to be an engaging story about the power of singing to overcome obstacles and bring comfort to the bereft and the bereaved.
The film stars the fabulous Kristin Scott Thomas as Kate, a Colonel’s wife, who decides to help the other wives on the military base while their spouses are deployed in Afghanistan by instituting a choir. Mourning the loss of her own son her coping mechanism is to keep busy and interfere with the younger and more pastorally sensitive Lisa, another military wife played by Sharon Horgan. A tug of war for the soul of the choir ensues.
We kind of know where this film is going from the beginning but there is something quietly comforting about predictability in our current cultural moment. It may not have Sister Act’s charm or Pitch Perfect’s contemporary set pieces (think Calendar Girls with more score and less skin), yet this could be a great multigenerational film for a good old British lockdown night in. I can easily imagine a watch party with my socially distanced parents and siblings in need of a feel-good pick-me-up.
This film struck a chord with me for a number of reasons but mainly I think because I miss singing. It’s one of those things that has quietly disappeared from our lives over the last few months along with an awful lot of other things. Walking down the high street of our pre-Covid town I used to hear all sorts of vocal ensembles emanating from pubs, building sites, churches, schools and social clubs. Sometimes euphonic, sometimes cacophonic. Now strangely nothing. Football may be back, but it’s not just the empty terraces that jar but their silence. The lack of chanting either to mock the opposition or celebrate a victory somehow flattens the atmosphere and spoils the experience.
The day after I watched Military Wives, I stood at the end of the drive of a neighbour who died from a sudden heart attack. I paid my respects silently to his grieving wife and children before joining the funeral online. Following the eulogies, a mutual friend played familiar songs on a piano while the comforting words scrolled across the screen. Nobody sang. It felt deafeningly cruel. I think filmmaker Peter Cattaneo understood this: while loneliness, death, war and petty squabbles tear people apart, silence is never enough; singing can bring a real sense of comfort and community.
Widely recognised for its physiological and psychological benefits, singing not only improves breathing, posture, and muscle tension but exercises the brain and boosts the immune system. Singing, especially when done as a group, is good for those suffering from mental health struggles, breathing conditions, language disorders and dementia. According to Jacques Launay, Postdoctoral Researcher in Experimental Psychology at Oxford University:
“The satisfaction of performing together, even without an audience, is likely to be associated with activation of the brain’s reward system, including the dopamine pathway, which keeps people coming back for more.”
Perhaps that is why one survey found that 2.8 million Britons are part of a choir. Even in lockdown virtual choirs and couch choirs have taken the internet by storm. Perhaps that is why Military Wives moved me far more than I expected. It may well be a long time before we can sing collectively again. But once we are allowed to do so, you’ll find me at my local pub, football match or church singing my heart out with everyone else.
Military Wives is available to watch now on all major streaming outlets.