There is a UK series from the 1990s (1991-1997) called “Soldier Soldier” I have begun watching recently which is about an infantry company in a fictional army regiment. It’s an interesting series, about rather ordinary aspects of military life in Britain during a time of cutbacks, changes in how women fit into the army and so on. I liked some aspects better than others, but there was one that particularly intrigued me—how it depicted male and female relations.
First: there is the adultery aspect. In the first season, there are two cases of outright physical adultery on the part of the wives of soldiers, in another case more of an emotional affair being conducted.
In the first example, we have the company commander’s wife, who is cold and touchy with her husband when he comes back from a tour of duty in Northern Ireland. It turns out that he can be stubborn, rather proud and occasionally hard to get along with but is basically a good and honourable man. One of the things I found interesting about this case is that she ends the affair though one gets the impression it is mostly because she doesn’t want to change her life that much, and she and her husband have no Hollywood style honeymoon resurgence. You get the impression that they are giving the marriage some time to work again—there is an awkwardness between the couple to some extent but the wife a few times in following episodes when talking to other wives emphasizes that there is a choice to be made and followed through on. I also found the husband’s response interesting. Apart from one punch delivered to the other guy, (another officer who was planning on leaving the army) he is pretty calm about the whole thing. He’s upset, but he says to her after she starts getting upset back, “I have to go. When I get back, either stay or be gone,” or words to that effect. It’s also interesting to notice that he doesn’t really change or try to please her in any way; he clearly loves her but his view of it is that he’s an army officer, that’s who she married, and she can either like it or lump it. He is also a kind man, clearly a good father to his son and a good leader to his men. I found this extremely interesting.
The second case is also curiously banal (in what I thought was a good way). The Company Sergeant Major is having an emotional affair with the wife of a sergeant in the company. The sergeant has PTSD. He and his wife are getting a divorce—when you see their home it is full of packing boxes. The wife says “You need to get some help.” The sergeant bitterly says, “If I do you’ll say, will you?” He is haunted (it doesn’t say directly but I felt it was clear enough) by the deaths of some of his men in the Gulf War. In the second case, it’s not clear to me why the Sergeant-Major and the wife are carrying on—they’re not having sex, the show demonstrates, but are basically dating. Others around them accept this. This gave me the impression that everyone knew that the couple were getting a divorce anyway. What I found sad and touching about this was that the sergeant has bad nightmares, and here is the thing: the wife knows that when he wakes up from his PTSD nightmares that his instinct is to protect his home. It is clear that he is not violent towards her, is not cruel towards her.
In the third case, one of the private soldiers has recently married the girl who is depicted as being the sexiest girl on the base. She is a very passionate person who doesn’t give her mouth a holiday; she dresses in a provocative way (for the time period), and at one point when he gets back from a training exercise early he realizes she is delaying him while another guy slips out the window. He goes berserk, ends up charged with striking his squad leader (who tried to calm him down), and has to do six months. The wife is never shown being repentant, in fact when talking to a female friend about it she says “what was I supposed to do? He was away for months!”
What I was really struck by during all these episodes though was this: the women feel that they have the right to slap, shout at, vilify and damn men at the slightest turn, for something as little as coming home drunk, because the man was rumored to have done something bad when he was a teenager, for not saying the right thing at the right time—but when the women actually cheat on their husbands, the women are not only protected but very gently chided.
There is actually not one married relationship depicted in this series that shows the wives being supportive of the husbands. It is always done reluctantly and with resentment. They appear to only be capable of showing love when they are in a good mood and things are going well.
I contrast this with the depiction of the Brodys in “Jaws”, my favourite on screen couple I think. In Jaws during difficult times the wife is shown supporting the husband; the husband is shown being caring towards his family but balances this ably with doing his duty to his office. There are two scenes that exemplify their relationship tome. One is where he is brooding about the shark and his wife says, “you want to get drunk and fool around?” and Brody says “Aw, yeah….”. Another is where he is about to go on the shark fishing boat and she is fussing and nervous about it but supports what he is doing. You hardly ever see this in a movie anymore, but the stuff in “Soldier Soldier” marches on.