I honestly can’t believe it’s been three years since Gareth Malone’s Military Wives choir charmed us all with their song ‘Wherever You Are’ which topped the Christmas charts back in 2011. Since then Malone’s star has risen as he was made an OBE in 2012 and recently put together the celebrity choir who performed this year’s Children in Need single. However, as a fan of Malone’s earlier TV series, I’ve felt that his work since the original Military Wives choir has been inconsistent and I wasn’t particularly taken with his Sing While You Work programme. Tonight he reunites with some of the original Military Wives as he tries to put together a 100-strong choir to perform at the Proms.
With some eighty Military Wives choirs now operating in the country, Gareth’s mission was to find the best 100 singers and unite them to perform some rather empowering numbers. This is easier said than done, especially when Malone receives over 400 video applications from the length and breadth of England. Anybody who’s seen one of Malone’s programmes in the past knows what to expect from the opening ten or so minutes as Gareth went about constructing his choir. Although, due to geographical complications, Gareth couldn’t turn up at every choir rehearsal in the country to inform the wives which ones had given successful auditions. He instead restricted himself to the South London branch where the four women who had made the cut got gradually more excited by the news. Especially excited to be in the choir was Sally Gosling who appeared to turn up at every subsequent rehearsal with a number of baked goods.
The major part of the narrative of the episode focused on the performance of two songs the first of which was ‘The Snow’ by Elgar which had been composed by his wife. However the biggest task that Malone had to undertake was getting all parts of his choir to master an eight-part harmony of Holst’s Ave Marie. Initially, Malone felt that this was a bridge too far however he ultimately he took the challenge on; splitting the wives into three regional groups. The choir members themselves were fairly apprehensive about the ‘Ave Maria’ challenge particularly when they discovered that they’d have to perform it unaccompanied. One element of the show I felt completely uncomfortable with was the way in which the camera followed twin sister members of one choir who felt they were unable to cope with the arrangement. Although a lot of Malone’s shows rely on emotional manipulation this to me was a little too contrived and, rather predictably, Gareth later turned up at the sisters’ house to give them extra coaching.
One of the reasons that the original Military Wives series worked so well was because we got to know the women of Chivenor Barracks. As the choir here was so widespread it was harder for the producers to highlight individual characters and therefore Malone himself was the primary focus of the piece. The few women we did focus on appeared nice enough but I don’t feel the programme devoted enough time to their stories for us to really care about their progress. For example I felt that if we’d spent more time in the presence of choir member Mimi we would’ve grown to love this mother-of-three who had be left alone with three daughters whilst her husband fought abroad. However, I wasn’t too keen on the obviously stage-managed Skype call that Mimi had with her husband which just so happened to be when the TV cameras were around.
It was this combination of singing show and serious exploration of the hardships of war that didn’t really sit right with me throughout the course of the programme. Whilst this was a theme in the original Military Wives series I never felt as uncomfortable as I did watching some of the scenes in this first episode. One moment in particular that was a little bit too much for me was the scene in which Malone went to Ypres and looked at the war graves in order to remember why he was undertaking this latest challenge. Though I’m sure that Malone wanted to do the servicemen of Britain proud; this scene among the graves was a step too far in my opinion. There was also quite a lot of filler laden throughout the episode most notably a scene in which choir member Sky went to meet her grandfather who himself had served in the army. I just didn’t think this scene added anything to the story as a whole although it apparently gave Sky some context on the reasons for the choir’s upcoming performance.
There were a few highlights though and most of these came when the women were simply performing together and in each other’s company. I don’t think the programme really did enough to highlight how much being part of a Military Wives Choir has helped them in their lives. The scenes in which they voice their concerns about their husbands felt incredibly genuine and it was these moments of human emotion that were few and far between in this episode. It was for this reason that I personally enjoyed the episode’s final act in which the women performed ‘Snow’ to welcome back a group of soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Again you could see the pleasure in the women’s faces as the soldiers embraced their families and it was interesting to hear how some of them were looking forward to welcoming home their own husbands in the near future.
One major issue I had with this episode is that I don’t find Gareth Malone as charming as I did back when he was trying to get schoolboys to sing and turning an entire town into a mammoth choir. He just seems a lot less patient than he used to be and as a result his likeability has somewhat lapsed. I feel that this may be one of the reasons that I didn’t enjoy this new Military Wives series as much as I did the 2011 run. Whilst the women themselves were still inspirational I found the pace of the episode disjointed and the imbalance of tone to be a problem. Though I’m sure that the choir will eventually master the eight-part Ave Maria I don’t think Malone and his latest ensemble have done enough to convince me to tune in to see them perform it.
What did you think to the new Military Wives Choir? Will you be watching the concluding instalment?
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