Movie Review – The Wife

Glenn Close has been nominated six times for an Oscar and has yet to win.  But this could change in 2019, as she is hotly tipped to be nominated again for her role in The Wife.  Close is an actress who can say more with her eyes than others can manage with two pages of dialogue.  In The Wife, she plays Joan Castleman, the wife of celebrated novelist Joseph (Jonathan Pryce).  The story is set in 1992, with Joe receiving a phone call letting him know he has won the Noble Prize in Literature.  Before he is told the news, he asks the caller to pause so Joan can get on the line.  As we listen to the congratulatory speech, the close-up of Joan’s face shows a range of emotions ranging from surprise, pride, and finally – could it be fury?

Much of Joan’s behaviour, her walking away suddenly from Joe after jumping on the bed with him, childishly singing “We won the Nobel We won the Nobel”, to her reluctance to join her husband in the spotlight after they arrive in Stockholm, hints at the truth of her simmering resentment towards her husband.

As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Joan herself was an accomplished writer, who shelved her ambitions early in life. Was the success of her husband bringing to the surface latent emotions of jealousy and a desire to realise her own ambitions?

The director deftly weaves in flashbacks to times in the 1950’s and 60’s where at creative writing class, Joan was first infatuated by the married Professor Castleman. During this time, Joe was not the success he would once be, having only published minor pieces of work, but this didn’t stop Joan doing all she could to capture his attention.  Eventually, Joe and Joan married but there was the pervasive suspicion that Joe has a relentlessly roving eye; which came to be true, in fact right up to the collecting the Nobel Prize.

A few years after getting married, things were looking up for Joe; his first novel entitled ‘The Walnut’ is published and becomes a bestseller.  As his success and fame grow, so do his narcissistic and philandering tendencies.  As such, Mr Castleman was not one to allow the limelight to be cast onto his wife, often telling people she “doesn’t write”.

Back to present time, and on a flight to Sweden to be presented with the Nobel Prize, Nathaniel Bone (played superbly by Christian Slater), enters the equation.  Mr Bone is a rather distasteful and persistent ‘biographer’ who wants to spill the beans on Joe’s life.  Sensing he is onto something, Nathaniel is relentless and overly intrusive in his push for a story, imposing himself on Joan and eventually confronting her over drinks. But had he really understood the truth, and equally, had Joan?

In the later scenes, matters come to an inevitable crescendo with a clash of events; the attempt by Joe to unsuccessfully seduce his assigned photographer, Karin Franz Körlof, the confrontation of Nathaniel and David (the son of Joe and Joan), and ultimately between Joe and Joan themselves.

While we won’t give away any spoilers in this review, it is safe to say that The Wife reminds us of the patriarchal viewpoint long held in society, and the deep and persistent damage this can wreak within families and marriages, which when coupled with narcissistic tendencies can have even more profound impacts.

For anyone interested in the dynamics of being married to someone in the limelight, and the overpowering effects this can have on the other person, The Wife is a truly compelling watch.  Not only is it beautifully written and crafted, but Glenn Close also conveys the emotion of a woman tormented by what could have been in a way few could ever achieve.

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