'The Power Of A Group' Moves Sharon Horgan, Kristin Scott Thomas In 'Military Wives'

May 23, 2020
Originally published on May 24, 2020 1:29 pm

In times of pandemic-induced isolation, the new film Military Wives offers a testament to the power of banding together.

The dramedy, starring top-notch actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan, is based on the story of the Military Wives Choir, a U.K. choral group-turned media sensation following the success of Gareth Malone's 2011 BBC documentary series, The Choir: Military Wives.

When British soldiers are deployed to Afghanistan, their spouses keep their families going amid the fear that something could happen overseas. The women try to keep busy, but they find a knitting group uninspiring and potluck dinners pallid.

An unlikely pair of women, spouses of high-ranking Army officials, find each other at just the right time. Type A personality Kate (Scott Thomas) and free-spirited Lisa (Horgan) form a choir. At first, they sound a little humdrum, until one day they take shelter from the rain in a cave and discover their true voices.

As with the real choral group, Scott Thomas says the women on set found strength and community in performing together.

"To get to that level took quite a lot of work and everyone would sort of help each other, because we all wanted to get it right," Scott Thomas said in an interview with Weekend Edition Saturday. "It's a really great feeling, that — to be able to create something as a group."

Noting that the Military Wives Choir charity organization has grown into 75 different groups around the world, Horgan said, "I think it's a story that speaks to a huge number of partners, spouses and wives of the military."

The film is available now on Hulu and other streaming platforms, just in time for Memorial Day in the U.S.

Interview Highlights

Kristin Scott Thomas, you're from a military family.

Scott Thomas: I grew up on a military base, rather like the ones we see in the film. I think part of the reason for me being drawn to this film was this, treating this aspect of the incredible sort of sacrifice that families of personnel in the military have to make.

Constantly being on the move, constantly being uprooted and being required to settle somewhere else. Having to change jobs all the time. I mean, to hold the fort, having to deal with the family, having to deal with absence, and the fear — and all of that mixed in with tremendous pride and a great feeling of service. Which is something that I think we forget about, is this feeling of national duty, which is something that I think is actually admirable.

What was it like to work together?

Scott Thomas: Well, I was unfamiliar with Sharon's work. But I managed to binge on Catastrophe. When we met, we decided we'd sort of have lunch or something, but we talked about everything under the sun except the movie.

And then we just sort of turned up for work one day and got on with it. Personally, I really enjoyed it — I don't know about you, Sharon!

Horgan: Well, when I first was told I was going to be working with Dame Kristin Scott Thomas, I had to educate myself, it was a pleasure.

No, I was really — I was incredibly nervous, actually. I mean, the nerves went pretty quickly, because like Kristin was saying, I remember walking away from that lunch thinking, 'I told that woman far too much.' I really told her some personal details.

But we really enjoyed it for a bunch of reasons. One of them was, we really enjoyed the singing, and we never expected to enjoy it so much. And the other one was that we had this great ensemble of 98% female cast around us. So it was just very relaxed, and really good fun.

Without giving too much away, there's a song by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers that figures in the last scene of the film. I cried copiously for the last 15 minutes of the film — and I guess that's exactly what you were going for. But it did remind me that in these times, when we're all kind of caught up in a worldwide crisis, there are other losses that go on, aren't there?

Scott Thomas: Yeah, the power of a group. I mean, the singing was particularly spectacular, in that shen we first started, it was awful. Apart from myself, of course, who sings like an angel! And then little by little, we got — in fact, quite quickly we got better because we enjoyed it so much. ...

But to get to that final result, that said moved you to tears — and I think you aren't the only one, I think that song was written with tears in mind — to get to that level took quite a lot of work.

NPR's Sophia Boyd and Hadeel Al-Shalchi produced this interview for broadcast. Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Military Wives" is a new film about the spouses and partners of British soldiers who are deployed overseas in Afghanistan. They keep their families going as their hearts leap when phones ring at unexpected hours. Their spouses find a knitting group uninspiring, potluck dinners to be pallid, so they form a choir that sounds a little humdrum until, one day, they take shelter in a cave in the rain and discover their true voices.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MILITARY WIVES")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) All I needed was the love you gave, all I needed for another day, and all I ever knew...

SIMON: Singing makes them strong. "Military Wives" stars Kristin Scott Thomas as Kate and Sharon Horgan as Lisa, two different women who find each other at just the right time. The film was to open in theaters, but it's now available on Hulu and digital, just before Memorial Day here in the U.S. And Kristin Scott Thomas, the BAFTA and Olivier Award winner and Oscar nominee, and Sharon Horgan, the co-writer and star of "Catastrophe" and other popular comedies, both join us from remote locations. Kristin Scott Thomas, thank you.

KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS: Hello. Lovely to be here.

SIMON: And, Sharon Horgan, thank you.

SHARON HORGAN: You're very welcome. Nice to be talking to you.

SIMON: Kristin Scott Thomas, tell us a little bit about Kate. Is it fair to say she's a little prim?

SCOTT THOMAS: I think prim is possibly an understatement. She is the commanding officer's wife. She has a son - or she had a son who, sadly, lost his life in Afghanistan. And her husband has just left on his tour. And she has decided that the only way to get through this very difficult and trying time is to take control and be in charge. And then she meets Sharon's character, Lisa, and things go astray.

SIMON: Sharon Horgan, tell us about Lisa, if you could?

HORGAN: You know, she's definitely someone who never expected to have that life, that this guy that she marries is promoted to sergeant major. And suddenly, she has responsibilities as (unintelligible) wife. And she's pretty blunt and likes to do things her way and doesn't really like being told what to do, which is part of the fun of it 'cause Kristin's character loves telling people what to do (laughter). That's where the (unintelligible).

SIMON: Sharon Horgan, in a sense, the film is based on not just one true story, but scores of different true stories, isn't it?

HORGAN: Yeah. Well, it's based on a documentary series, which was, like, really, really popular here in the U.K. And it was about a group of women who lived on a military base, and they form a choir. But, I mean, I think the great thing about this film is the choir has sort of ended up being this enormous success, and there's, like, 75 of them all over the world. So I think it's a story that speaks to a huge number of partners, spouses and wives of the military.

SIMON: Kristin Scott Thomas, you're from a military family. Your father was a Royal Navy pilot with what I guess we'd consider, at least on this show, a familiar name.

SCOTT THOMAS: Yes. My father's name was Simon Scott Thomas. There you go. But, yes, I grew up on a military base rather like the ones we see in the film. I think part of the reason for me being drawn to this film was this - treating this aspect of the incredible sort of sacrifice that families of personnel in the military have to make.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCOTT THOMAS: Constantly being on the move, constantly being uprooted and being required to settle somewhere else, having to change jobs all the time and to hold the fort, having to deal with the family, having to deal with absence and the fear, and all that mixed in with tremendous pride and a great feeling of sadness, which is something that I think we forget about, is this feeling of national duty, which is something that I think is actually admirable.

SIMON: You know, both of you are great and celebrated talents, but I think of you as different kinds of talents. What was it like to work together? Why don't you go first, Kristin Scott Thomas?

SCOTT THOMAS: Well, I was unfamiliar with Sharon's work.

(LAUGHTER)

SCOTT THOMAS: But I managed to sort of binge on "Catastrophe." When we met, we decided we'd sort of have lunch or something, and we talked about everything under the sun except the movie. And then we just sort of turned up for work one day and got on with it. Personally, I really enjoyed it. I don't know about you, Sharon.

(LAUGHTER)

HORGAN: Well, when I first was told I was going to be working with Dame Kristin Scott Thomas, I had to educate myself.

SIMON: (Laughter).

HORGAN: But it was a pleasure. No, I was really - I was incredibly nervous, actually. I mean, the nerves went pretty quickly 'cause, like Kristin was saying, I remember walking away from that lunch thinking, I told that woman far too much.

(LAUGHTER)

HORGAN: I really told her some personal details. But we really enjoyed it for a bunch of reasons. One of them was we really enjoyed the singing, and we never expected to enjoy it so much. And the other one was that we had this great ensemble of 98% female cast around us. So it was just very relaxed and really good fun.

SIMON: Without giving too much away, there's a song by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers that figures in to the last scene of the film. I cried copiously for the last 15 minutes of the film.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: And I guess that's exactly what you were going for. But it did remind me that in these times, when we're all kind of caught up in a worldwide crisis, there are other losses that go on, aren't there?

SCOTT THOMAS: Yeah, the power of a group. I mean, it just - the singing was particularly spectacular in that when we first started, it was awful.

(LAUGHTER)

SCOTT THOMAS: Well, after myself, of course, who sings like an angel (laughter). And then little by little, we got - in fact, quite quickly, we got better because we enjoyed it so much. And after a while, Peter, our director, had to sort of put on the brakes and say, no, no, no. Stop singing because you're getting too good. I mean too good for that moment in the film. I mean, I don't think we'll ever be too good. But to get to that final result that said - moved you to tears, and I think you aren't the only one. I think that song was written with tears in mind.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCOTT THOMAS: To get to that level took quite a lot of work. And everyone would sort of help each other because we all wanted to get it right. And that was something that was really thrilling and sort of leveling. And it's a really great feeling, that - to be able to create something as a group.

SIMON: Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan star in "Military Wives," now on Hulu and digital. Thank you both so much for being with us.

SCOTT THOMAS: Thank you, Scott.

HORGAN: Thank you for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.