Film Review : The Wife

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Director: Björn Runge

15 | 1h 40min | Drama | 28 September 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

If you aren’t already a Glenn Close fan, this new release should thoroughly convert you. Close is an acting titan in this hugely enjoyable and timely (even though the story is set in the 90s, #metoo and #timesup form an inevitable backdrop) dark comedy from director Björn Runge, which is based on the bestselling book by Meg Wolitze. Close plays Joan Castleman, the 60-something wife of celebrated American fiction author Joe (the great Jonathan Pryce, making it two acting legends in one package here), with whom she has shared forty years of her life. When the film opens, Joe is hit by the news he has won the Nobel prize for literature, a case for joint celebration. A party for friends and family in their fashionable domicile swiftly follows, and Joe and Joan present the image of a settled, comfortable unit, one in which Joan - who took on the housewife and mother role while Joe’s career soared - has been more than happy to make secondary her own talent, dreams and ambitions. Joe trots out the well-worn line; ‘she’s my rock’ to all who can hear as the champagne flows, and the two are soon whisked off to Sweden for the long build up to the awards ceremony. But is all well in Joan’s mind, as she reaches her sixth decade having not notched up the same opportunities and recognition afforded to the man in her life?

Close is supremely watchable - a compelling mix of graceful poise offset by the merest hint of uncertainty, to be increasingly replaced by trembling rage - as the eve of Joe’s Nobel Prize for Literature presentation grows near, and she is unable to avoid the exposing of long-buried secrets and resentments. Watching Joe project his infuriating air of false modesty as he eats up the plaudits of the literature world seems to trigger something inside Joan; both a flood of memories of a past where the patriarchy of the 1950s educational establishment and Joe’s own expectations of the sex roles stifled her budding literary career, and an uncontrollable desire to finally confront Joe about the real sources of his inspiration and success, a reality that has been replaced by a convenient fiction that he has started to really believe. Joe, never played as the outright villain by Pryce, projects the charisma that you can imagine would seduce a woman like Joan, but nevertheless has a concealed streak of boorishness and casual sexism within him that only grows more exposed the longer the pre-ceremony glad-handing goes on. “My wife doesn’t write” is but one of Joe’s many facetious comments, made in a throwaway fashion to a rapt group of admirers whilst loosened up by free booze, that serves as an ice pick into Joan’s soul. Joe’s eyes wander to the attractive photographer assigned to follow them around too, a further humiliation that we sense Joan has had to endure before. 

Waiting for the tension to boil over, for Joan to call Joe on his bullshit, and for the real influence Joan had on his work to be fully revealed and the recognition of its value demanded, is both a source of great tension and a huge amount of dark fun. The chance to see Close and Pryce tussling with each other is more than worth the price of admission. 


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Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.