The Wife




Great acting in a drama that somewhat loses its distinction.

Wife, The

Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close


The opening scenes of this film are very impressive suggesting that we might have here an intelligent work for thoughtful audiences on a par with the splendid but in some quarters underrated Denial (2016) which took as its subject those who deny the Holocaust. The issues here are not as serious as that but The Wife is a drama, one that is centered on a marriage that only outwardly looks to be a happy one. The titular figure is Joan (Glenn Close). For many years she has been married to an author, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), and as the film opens, Joe learns that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. They have two adult children, David (Max Irons), who wishes to follow in his father's footsteps as a writer, and Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan) who will soon become a mother herself. Most of the film take place in Stockholm as the day of the ceremony approaches with Joe ready to declare in his speech of thanks how much he owes to his wife. Yet, as we will discover both through plot developments and through flashbacks to the couple's earlier life, the reality behind the marriage and the part that Joan has played in her husband's career are quite different from the public's perception of them.


It is immediately apparent that the casting is perfect. Close conveys so much through her facial expressions and she and Pryce (the latter playing an American literary figure for the second time following his role in 2014's Listen Up Philip) relish the opportunities offered by a literate screenplay, one not afraid in this context to quote from James Joyce's The Dead. The writing is less adept in the somewhat underdeveloped sub-plot concerning the tensions between father and son but it functions well when it comes to the other significant character in the story, Nathaniel Bone. The latter is a man who, having been rejected by Joe as his biographer, is now out to expose Joan's importance in Joe's career. This is a role that finds Christian Slater on top form reminding one of the slimy press agent played so brilliantly by Tony Curtis in the 1957 classic Sweet Smell of Success.


The direction by Björn Runge is not in itself of special distinction, but that matters not a jot when the quality of the acting is this high. Somewhat ironically, it is the quality of this piece as so quickly established that makes the final scenes seem by comparison to belong to the world of popular fiction. It is not only the  Scandinavian setting that encourages one to feel that the climax looks set to echo Ibsen's A Doll's House but it ends up closer to the kind of contrived material often found in melodramas. That may be to overstate the case and my rating above is arguably on the harsh side. Nevertheless, The Wife promises so much that one can't but be disappointed when, in contrast to Denial, its climactic scenes fail to maintain the very high standard that has been set. But, given the pleasure provided by three distinguished performances, it is well worth seeing.




Cast: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Harry Lloyd, Annie Starke, Elizabeth McGovern, Karin Franz Körlof, Alix Wilton Regan, Morgane Polanski, Michael Benz.


Dir Björn Runge, Pro Rosalie Swedlin, Meta Louise Foldager, Piers Tempest, Piodor Gustafsson and Claudia Bluemhube, Screenplay Jane Anderson, from the novel by Meg Wolitzer, Ph Ulf Brantås, Pro Des Mark Leese, Ed Lena Runge, Music Jocelyn Pook, Costumes Trisha Bigger.


Silver Reel/Meta Film London/Anonymous Content/Tempo Productions/Embankment Films/Creative Scotland-Picturehouse Entertainment.
100 mins. UK/USA/Sweden/Switzerland. 2017. Rel: 28 September 2018. Cert. 15.