The Palace Cinemas British Film Festival is one of the best film festivals hosted in Sydney, with almost every film being a crowd favourite and destined for a wider release over the next coming months.

Based on a true story, this years British Film Festival opened with Military Wives, the story of the wives and girlfriends left behind when their spouses are deployed for months to Afghanistan. While the films slow start seemed to make it a surprising choice, the momentum built by the second half and it became clear why it was picked.

Military Wives captures the triumph of the British spirit that rises to the challenge of the circumstances and the camaraderie of a group of people who need the support of one another and the humour that sustains them. The film places itself in the same genre of Britcom as Brassed Off, Calendar Girls, and another film by the films director Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty (1997).

Cattaneo knows the formula and makes sure that the film is sprinkled appropriately with humour, pathos and redemption in all the right places. He is adept at telling his stories and quickly establishing the circumstances. His interpretation of military life shows the women in their compound, each house like the one next door. And while the women and families who live in them may differ from each other in many ways, in so many others they are the same. The children grow up needing to be surrounded by others like them to normalise their lifestyle of being without one parent for long periods of time, establishing rituals of how to say goodbye and count down the days to their return. Distraction is a necessity to those left behind as they are aware that at any time they may be the one to receive a knock on the door to let them know their partner is injured, dead or missing in action.

The story that underpins Military Wives launched about 75 military choirs throughout the UK – and the choirs have gone on to produce a number of records and CDs as well as feature in the TV program, The Choir: Military Wives.

The film succeeds because of the strong performances of the lead actors Kristin Scott Thomas (Kate) and Sharon Horgan (Lisa). Kate is cold, empathetic and wants to start the choir to throw herself into something technical that she will be able to focus on and draw the women into. Lisa is happy to let the women do as theyve always done – gather at coffee mornings, share pot luck dinners and forget themselves with the help of wine. But, the choir ignites a forgotten musical songwriting passion and she throws herself into the selection of songs for the newly formed choir. Kate and Lisa are unlikely allies but Lisa is, by rank, tasked to organise distractions for the women. Kate needs the distraction more than the others, as she recently lost her 18-year-old son in the service. Kate, a natural leader and experienced in the military as a captains wife, starts to take the lead but quickly realises the women are more aligned to Lisa. The two form an unlikely relationship to help the other women. Their characters are sensitively drawn by writers Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard.

Theres a lot of predictability in the film; the Welsh girl turns out to be the best singer, the Irish woman has a background in music and is not afraid to speak her mind, the most English of English roses (Kate) is repressed and seems to be tough as nails. Despite this, and for some, because of this, the film is enjoyable –  the predictability perhaps makes the movie a comforting visit into the England we all think we know.

And as ever, any good UK film features a supporting cast of endearing misfits. 

Military Wives is worth a look in even if just for the soundtrack – from Yazoo’s Only You to Human Leagues Dont You Want Me Baby, The Spice Girls Wannabe and Cyndi Laupers Time After Time –  these are the songs that are admired by a range of ages – something you will want to hear a choir sing.

Feature image: Military Wives. Image supplied