Being a military wife isn’t easy. When your spouse gets deployed, you’re basically on your own for the next six months. Sure, you’ll receive letters; and if communications are working over there, then you might get a brief opportunity for a video chat. But it’s not the same as being together.
The wives of the Flitcroft military base understand that hard reality. And they each have their own way of coping with the constant worry caused by their spouses’ lengthy absence. Some compulsively buy everything they see on the shopping channel, some send care packages to their hubbies, and a lot of them drink … a lot.
For Lisa, coping with that stress means packing up her husband’s belongings and hiding them in the closet, so she doesn’t have to be constantly reminded that he’s not there.
Unfortunately, due to her husband’s new promotion, Lisa can’t just kick back with the girls over a bottle of wine anymore. As the spouse of the Regimental Sergeant Major, (the highest rank on base aside from the colonel), she’s now responsible for the mental well-being of all the wives in the regiment. That means brainstorming group activities to entertain them, being a shoulder to cry on when they need someone to talk to, and of course, constantly being reminded that she is on her own.
Lisa doesn’t exactly embrace her new responsibility. And after someone suggests creating a choir as an extracurricular activity, she dreads it even more. On top of that, her every move is scrutinized by Kate, the colonel’s wife.
Kate loves the idea of a choir as a means of distraction for the ladies. And she’s got some pretty strict ideas about how it should be run—ideas involving structure and scales and everyone being on key. But since nobody really likes Kate’s rules and regulations, she’ll have to learn how work in harmony with Lisa’s cavalier style to rally the troops.
Kate is uptight and controlling, while Lisa is relaxed and unmotivated. Often, these conflicting personalities cause rifts in the group—especially when they start taking personal digs at each other. However, the two women’s differences also balance each other out and rub off on each other, too. Gradually, Kate and Lisa begin to realize that they are stronger together, making the choir stronger as well.
The choir becomes something of a sanctuary for the women involved: It provides comfort when one young wife receives news that her husband has been killed in action, it helps another overcome her severe stage fright, and it creates a safe space where all of these women can all be honest about their fears and feelings surrounding their spouses’ deployment. Oh, and a placed to have some fun, too.
Lisa’s daughter, Frankie, acts out while her dad is deployed. She is rude and dismissive towards Lisa and also makes some poor choices regarding friends and parties. Lisa, in turn, struggles to provide boundaries for her daughter and eventually admits that she doesn’t want Frankie to make the same mistakes that she did when she was young. The two are able to reconcile after apologizing, and Frankie starts to make better decisions, even babysitting the choir members’ kids while they rehearse.
The soldiers being deployed help prepare their families for separation by creating fun countdowns for their kids and writing letters to their wives.
A funeral takes place in a church, and we see a cross standing in the corner. The choir sings “Ave Maria,” and someone mentions “Onward Christian Soldiers.” One character compares the ladies’ first choir practice to the “incantations of witches.” Someone says choir is like Sister Act but “without the God bit.”
A few husbands kiss their wives goodbye. We see a woman in a bathtub (nothing critical is shown). A wife cuts out pictures of her head and pastes them onto the bodies of underwear models to make her husband laugh. When Kate changes clothes in a car, her bra strap is seen, and a man wolf-whistles at her. A woman’s dress shows cleavage. Several women dance suggestively during karaoke. A man shows off his Kevlar underwear and says he is “protecting the family jewels.” Someone finds a pair of teddy bears in a sexual position. Ruby, one of the choir members, is married to another woman.
People talk about strippers, sex, pubic hair, a blow-up doll, and chaffed nipples. Kate says that her family thought she was pregnant when she got married because of the suddenness. Someone suggests that Lisa’s daughter is promiscuous and will wind up pregnant. A mother gets upset when her daughter is cat-called by a soldier.
A woman receives news that her husband was killed in the war, while another learns that her husband was badly injured. A man wrapped in bloody bandages lies in a hospital bed. A TV news report mentions suicide bombers. Kate turns off the radio when the host begins talking about casualties from the war. A woman is warned that her husband’s body will be too mutilated for an open casket funeral. Soldiers guarding the gate to a military base hold guns. A woman is hit in the back with a nerf gun.
We hear the f-word twice and the s-word 10 times. We hear the British expletives “bloody,” “sh-te” and “a-se” three times each. “P-ss” is used six times, and “h—” and “b–ch” are each used once. We also hear 10 misuses of God’s name and 3 misuses of Jesus’ name.
People drink wine and beer throughout the movie at most social gatherings. There are also some instances where harder liquor is consumed. When Kate voices concern about how much everyone drinks, she is mocked. Eventually, she stops trying and joins in.
Kate cares for a Frankie after finding the underage girl drunk in the street. She warns Lisa that children are twice as likely to drink if they see their parents drinking, and Frankie later proves her point by saying that it shouldn’t be a big deal since her mom drinks too.
People sing lyrics about hangovers and cocktail waitresses. Someone tells a story about drinking two bottles of wine and smoking a pack of cigarettes before throwing up. A soldier smokes. A woman says her compulsive spending habit is better than having a gambling or drinking problem.
Despite the best efforts of their soon-departing spouses to reassure and comfort them about the deployment, it is obvious that the wives and children left behind are upset. One wife admits that whenever she receives a phone call or knock on the door, she is scared it will be someone coming to tell her that her husband is dead. But until the choir is formed, most of the women cope with their feelings by avoiding the subject and drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
We learn that a soldier who died was a foster child and that he married his wife right before the deployment so she would be his “next of kin.”
Kate’s son was a soldier who died very young, and she struggles to process her grief throughout the movie. So when she learns that her husband volunteered for his most recent deployment (and subsequently got gravely injured), she gets very angry. Rather than work through these feelings, she pretends to be fine until she eventually takes her anger out on Lisa. During the argument, she criticizes Lisa’s parenting and suggests that Frankie will become a floozy while Lisa suggests that Kate is using the choir as an excuse to not think about her son.
Someone says a dessert looks like a “squashed turd.” When Lisa and Kate argue during choir practice, someone says it reminds them of their parents’ divorce. Someone mentions lyrics about a “psychotic stalker.”
Military Wives is inspired by the true stories of the women who started the first military wives’ choir. Today, there are more than 2,300 women participating in 75 Military Wives Choirs around the world. Their motto is “Stronger Together,” and this film effectively captures that spirit.
That said, this feel-good story does come with a few caveats. Cursing is pretty frequent, and drinking is a common coping mechanism for many of the wives. (Indeed, quite a few of them find a reason to drink at every social gathering—even Knitting Club.) Jokes about sex salt the script pretty frequently, too.
Those elements may put some potential viewers off. That said, Military Wives deals realistically with the reality of war and deployment—especially its effects on those who stay behind. The women portrayed in this movie represent thousands of military spouses around the world. In a very real (and possibly triggering) way, this story shows the anxiety, fear and depression that these women face on a daily basis as they wait patiently for their husbands to come home—not sure if they ever will.
But it’s not all that grim (despite some genuinely tragic moments). Military Wives ultimately showcases the bravery, camaraderie and hope that these women instill in one another. At the start of this film, many of them feel alone with no community to support them. But by the end, these wives are joined together with a group of people who are going through the exact same thing while doing something that they all love—singing.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.