Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we have our first Awards Season contender… Whilst The Wife as a film itself is an above-average drama, Glenn Close’s performance is the memorable factor. It’s a tour de force performance; a powerhouse display that fully commands the screen. It’s simply magnificent and warrants the upmost of attention.
Joan Castleman (Close) finds herself questioning her life’s choices when her husband, Joe Castleman (Pryce), is nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. From the moment the early morning congratulatory call came from the committee, she had been feeling a range of emotions; some of which she’d never dare to vocalize. But, it is when they arrive in Sweden for the award’s ceremony, that all of these tensions are truly heightened and brought to the fore.
The narrative is a slow reveal, intricate and full of intrigue. The title alone establishes the focus of the film and it’s clear from the outset it is the wife we should be watching. The wife who has spent decades being forgotten about, the wife who looked after her family, supported him and raised her children. She was once Joan the aspiring writer; from the moment she first met Joe, her then-professor, those aspirations had to be forgotten and sacrificed for him. Those unspoken frustrations are at the forefront of the narrative and within every word, movement, gesture and expression that Close makes. Her increasing resentment is portrayed both in the large moments and the small ones. Her face is the focus during his speeches, meetings and commitments; and it’s clear that she’s finding it increasingly hard to keep them concealed.
She’s most exposed when conversing with her husband’s want-to-be biographer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) and it’s when she utters one of her most haunting pieces of dialogue. Her magnificent, silent yet righteous rage has been building since the beginning. It’s always been there, her husband was blind to it; he was happy to reap the rewards of success without seeing the cost.
The treatment he receives from all those around him is exactly what society has long told what the male maverick artistic genius deserves – the ability to behave with little consequence and absolute entitlement. Such behaviours as having his presence acknowledged long before his wife, being spoken to with the upmost respect and flattery, the omnipresent inflating of his ego and self-worth; all whilst being surrounded by a flurry of adoring female fans he can has his pick of with results he can depend on – those are the things the male maverick artistic genius has been told he can earn with his ability and success. This film arrives at the time when that myth is starting to finally be exposed; when truths are beginning to out, the complicity is being abandoned in favour of truth and when legacies are finally starting to decay.
The film maximises the effectiveness of this through its narrative construction. The use of Joan and Joe’s younger selves (Starke and Lloyd respectfully) within carefully interposed flashbacks enhance the impact of the on goings within the present; a timely reminder that, as with reality, history inevitably impacts the present. It is with her character that Close gives the greatest sense of consequences and decisions. The level of depth within her performance allows this to happen, within every interaction an ache is there. An ache for what may have been, what should have been, what she wishes could have been but would never have been allowed to be. She is a ticking time bomb, a force to be reckoned with that has been needlessly and irretrievably undervalued for far too long. She is the calm before the storm, the impossible stillness before the rage.
And, whilst that storm slowly continues to build throughout the film, watching it unleash is a must-see to behold.
Dir: Björn Runge
Scr: Jane Anderson (screenplay) Meg Wolitzer (book)
Cast: Christian Slater, Max Irons, Glenn Close, Elizabeth McGovern, Harry Lloyd, Jonathan Pryce, Annie Starke
Prd: Rosalie Swedlin, Meta Louise Foldager, Piers Tempest, Piodor Gustafsson, Claudia Bluemhube
DoP: Ulf Brantås
Music: Jocelyn Pook
Run time: 100 minutes
A special preview screening and Q&A with Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce and director Björn Runge will be taking place at Picturehouse Central on Friday 10th August.
In UK cinemas from 28th September.