Entertainment Movies Stephen A Russell sings the praises of Military Wives and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead
Updated:

Stephen A Russell sings the praises of Military Wives and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Kristin Scott Thomas plays an uptight military wife alongside Sharon Horgan as fiery co-choir leader. Photo: Transmission Films
Share
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Britain has cornered the market in tears and big cheers comedies hung on honest-to-goodness true stories about anxiety-inducing performances.

From Brassed Off (1996) to Billy Elliot (2000), you know exactly how these against-all-odds crowd pleasers play out, but you’ll whoop whoop for their love, nonetheless.

The same holds for Military Wives, the latest instalment in this long line of weapons-grade good will hunting.

Director Peter Cattaneo hails from the front lines, after all, having commandeered Robert Carlyle and Co’s unmentionables as unemployed miners-turned-strippers in 1997 hit The Full Monty.

Thankfully no one gets their kit off here, with the concept a little more prone to cardigans.

Based on UK reality TV show The Choir: Military Wives, relatively new writing duo Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard depict a barracks full of women understandably stressing over their active-duty soldier husbands posted to Afghanistan.

Going spare, staring at the walls while dreading a deathly text message bearing the worst news, they decide to form a choir.

That inevitably leads to a national competition held at none other than the hallowed Royal Albert Hall.

What makes this textbook set-up sing is the pitch-perfect casting of Four Weddings and a Funeral star Kristin Scott Thomas as Kate, the icily uptight wife of the boys’ ranking officer (Greg Wise).

That, and having her charge head on at Catastrophe lead Sharon Horgan as Lisa, her fiery co-choir leader.

Kate – who’s a big softy, really, under the expensive knitwear– is all about prim and proper process.

She wants them to perform sombre hymns.

Sharon, on the other hand, is a red-hot mess just about coping with a binge-drinking daughter (India Amarteifio) and ready to battle on the beaches in defence of Yazoo’s Only You.

Their trench warfare makes the feel-good march to the Royal Albert Hall hit the high notes.

Of course they recruit one stand-out pair of lungs and one absolute dud.

Obviously Kate’s nursing her wounds while hiding bad tendencies.

Someone’s never going to see their husband again. And yes, you already know who wins.

But any perceived criticism – that it’s not formally daring, the characters are well worn and the plot utterly predictable – are pretty much the point.

The cinematic equivalent of a nice cup of tea after a long, hard day, it’s a soothing tonic full of vitality.

I mean this from the bottom of my heart as a Scotsman who first caught it while thoroughly exhausted amid last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and was instantly revived.

And while we’re on the subject of precision-deployed British dramedy, this week also sees the release of the considerably darker but still emotionally cathartic Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.

Hailing from the devilish brain of Ben Wheatley – the exciting writer/director behind Kill List, Sightseers and High-Life – again the concept and destination are simple.

Take one fractured family and deposit a fancy hired mansion with way too much booze to ring in the New Year and watch how it all falls apart.

Snarkier than the big broad strokes of Military Wives, it’s just as entertaining.

Wheatley regular Neil Maskell is brilliant in a low-key excellent British ensemble as the grumbling cockney geezer who tries and fails to do something nice for his brood, while I, Daniel Blake’s hard-done-by mum, Hayley Squires, is also great.

But it’s Game of Thrones star Charles Dance who steals the show by unexpectedly donning a cardi and skirt combo with a bit of lippy that would do Military Wives’ Kate proud.

Whether you’re after a big hearty chuckle or sharp, smart barbs, I’d sing the praises of both movies.

Military Wives and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead are in Australian cinemas on Thursday, March 12

Comments
View Comments