“I met the producer Rory [Aitken], one of the producers of the film, who pushed it my way, saying ‘I thought you’d be a good person for this, you might like it’,” says director Peter Cattaneo when we interview him about his latest film, Military Wives. “Rory had seen The Choir documentary on TV and there was a rough script. I had a look at it and watched the documentary. Initially it really appealed, because I didn’t know anything about any of it.”
The reason Rory Aitken (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, upcoming Ironbark) thought that Cattaneo would be interested was clear from the director’s filmography.
Peter Cattaneo hit the big time back in 1997 when his low budget feel-good film, The Full Monty, about a bunch of unemployed working class blokes forming a striptease act was picked up by 20th Century Fox Films, and became a massive worldwide hit. Obviously, unafraid of typecasting, Cattaneo’s next feature film was Lucky Break, which was about prison inmates staging a musical in order to escape, and after that, and soon after that, The Rocker about an over the hill drummer who joins his teenage nephew’s high school band. Cattaneo has been working in TV since 2008, but now comes back to cinema with the similarly themed Military Wives.
“I sometimes feel like when I make a home video, it’s seen as a companion piece,” says Cattaneo about Military Wives’ similarities with The Full Monty, also acknowledging that that was the reason he paused before committing to the project. “Clearly everything I do gets compared to The Full Monty… you know, I’m joking about it, but it was inevitable. It’s going to get massively compared to it a lot. These characters are in a kind of grim part of life. They find self-esteem through performing and they’re real people… so it’s similar.
“I knew that when I set out to do it. That was one sticking point and also, ‘do I want to make a big, potentially militaristic, flag-waving film….’ Both reasons were really annoying because I loved the story.
“I just thought, ‘I’m not going to let them get in my way, I’m just going to do it because I want to do it’. And so, the one I could do a bit more about is the script and not making it too… especially these days, too British nationalistic and prime military even, and just to, not talk about that. Just talk about these people, just people. And that was easier. It’s so much about the empowerment of women, about women finding their voice, about the collective thinking about the individual. As a Brit these days it’s important to think about sticking together, and unity, which outweighed the reasons not to do it.
“I enjoyed making it. I loved doing all the singing scenes, finding out about how choirs work, finding out about military life. That’s the great thing about directing, this journey of self-education sometimes.
But Military Wives is quite different to The Full Monty, in that it’s about women, of course. “I know a lot of women, and I’m married to one,” laughs the filmmaker. “One thing I wanted to get across, I think is that something that men don’t necessarily have, which is that women do get together and talk. If my wife doesn’t meet with a gang of women twice a week minimum to offload, she just goes crazy. I just kind of mumble to people to talk about football or I might go to a mate and talk football, and have a couple of beers. I was kind of keen to capture that, and that’s a great thing that women have over men. I was also keen not to make them… They told me not to make them girly girly women. They’re military wives. And like all women, they’re all different types, but they’re particularly practical, down-to-earth women and they’ve got quite a rude sense of humour, they can look after themselves. They know how to change plugs and fix the plumbing if necessary because the men are away all the time.
“I was keen to have some of the women more masculine than others and not be a cliched bunch of scared-looking women just waiting at the front door like some 1950s wife. And that just came from meeting them. You had the really posh ones, you had the really ballsy ones. You have ones who weren’t all scared and feminine and say, well… I was really keen to just make it about the glory of womenkind being so diverse.”
Military Wives is in cinemas now