Military Wives: History vs. Hollywood

Questioning the Story:

Is Military Wives based on a true story?

Yes. The movie was inspired by the real Military Wives Choirs, a network of 75 choirs in British military bases around the United Kingdom and abroad. The choirs consist of more than 2,200 members whose loved ones serve across the British armed forces, including in the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Royal Marines. The Military Wives Choirs is a registered charity, and like in the movie, it was created to bring the women in the military community closer together via singing. While the overall inspiration for the film is grounded in reality, the interactions between the characters, as well as certain events depicted in the movie, are fictional.

Did the original choir call themselves the "Military Wives"?

No. The original choir, which was based out of Catterick Garrison, called themselves the "Military WAGS". In Britain, the term "WAG" is an acronym for "wives and girlfriends." It is most commonly used by British tabloids to refer to the wives and girlfriends of soccer players.

Who started the first Military Wives Choir?

In conducting our Military Wives fact check, we learned that the first choir was formed in 2010 in Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, England. This is the choir that most directly inspired the film. It was the idea of Nicky Clarke, who came up with the concept of a choir while sitting on the sofa one afternoon in the autumn of 2009. Her husband, Hugo, was set to deploy to Afghanistan in the spring of 2010 and spent much of his time training. With the help of her friend, Caroline Jopp, they put up posters at the Garrison to encourage other wives, girlfriends, and servicewomen to participate. They also hired a music teacher to help them form and train the choir. In addition, Nicky Clarke sent a letter to celebrity choirmaster Gareth Malone asking for help. Malone, who hosted the BBC television show The Choir, wasn't available to help. However, he liked the idea and decided he would replicate it for his show.

Nicky Clarke came up with the idea for the first Military Wives Choir. Photo: Army&You

After recognizing the potential, Gareth Malone incorporated the concept into the fourth season of The Choir, which focused on taking people with no choir experience and introducing them to choral music. The official title for the fourth season was The Choir: Military Wives. It took place at the Royal Marines Base Chivenor in Devon, England, where Malone brought together the wives and girlfriends of servicemen deployed in Afghanistan and taught them how to perform. He also worked with women from the Royal Citadel, Plymouth. Malone's documentary series became part of the inspiration for the movie, though there is no character based on him.

Choirmaster Gareth Malone (center and inset) and members of the real Military Wives Choirs at Wellington Barracks in London in September 2012 at the official launch of the Military Wives Choirs charity.

Are the Military Wives characters based on real people?

No. In answering the question, "How accurate is Military Wives?", we learned that both the characters and the specific storyline told in the film are almost entirely fictional. This includes the two women who start the choir, Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lisa (Sharon Horgan). However, it's worth noting that two women did set up the first real-life choir, Nicky Clarke and Caroline Jopp. They were Scots Guards wives whose husbands were serving in Afghanistan. And like Kristin Scott Thomas' character in the film, one of the women, Caroline Jopp, was the wife of the commanding officer. Yet, Caroline, 56, has emphasized that the movie character is not based on her.

"I would like gently to point out that while it's true that Kristin Scott Thomas plays the commanding officer's wife in the film, and I was the commanding officer's wife in reality when the choir was first set up, as always with these things characters get merged, invented, exaggerated," she told iNews. Caroline is friendlier with a much warmer disposition than her icy onscreen counterpart. She and her husband Lincoln acted as advisers on the film, which she described as The Full Monty meets Calendar Girls. The movie was directed by Peter Cattaneo, who also directed The Full Monty.

The real Military Wives are not represented in the movie. The characters, including those portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan, are fictional.

Some of the challenges that the characters face musically are similar to the struggles faced by the women in real life. The overall national impact of the choir in the film also hues close to the Military Wives true story, minus the impact of Gareth Malone's reality TV series, which is absent from the movie.

Did the choir really perform for the Queen?

Yes. The movie's performance of "Wherever You Are" during the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall is plucked straight from real life. While researching the Military Wives fact vs. fiction, we learned that in real life, the "Wherever You Are" performance took place on November 12, 2011. Unlike in the film, the performance was part of the climax of choirmaster Gareth Malone's television series The Choir: Military Wives and featured the two choirs he helped form during the series, not the original choir.

The Military Wives Choirs also performed the song "Sing" for the Queen at her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. View the Diamond Jubilee performance.

Choirmaster Gareth Malone instructs two of the Military Wives Choirs as they perform "Wherever You Are" for the Queen at the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall on November 12, 2011.

Did the real Military Wives Choir make it to the top of the charts?

Yes. The choirs featured in choirmaster Gareth Malone's series The Choir released the single "Wherever You Are". The song was created from bits of correspondence between the choir members and their significant others in Afghanistan. In 2011, it rose to the UK Singles Chart Christmas number one and sold more than 556,000 copies in a single week.

Since then, the choirs have had another hit single, "Sing" (2012), and released four albums: In My Dreams (March 2012), Stronger Together (November 2012), Home for Christmas (November 2016), and Remember (June 2018).

Was the movie filmed on the actual base where the first Military Wives Choir originated?

Yes. Much of the film was shot at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, England, the British Army garrison where the first choir was started in 2010.

Housing and barracks at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, England.

How do the real Military Wives feel about the movie?

In researching the Military Wives true story, we discovered that the real-life wives are supportive of the film. "The film gets the sense of camaraderie and the ‘We will make it through’ spirit," says Sharon Farrell, who was in the original choir.

Military Wives Choir Performances

Watch the real Military Wives Choir perform the songs "Wherever You Are" and "Sing". In both videos below, Queen Elizabeth II is in attendance.

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