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film review

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in The Wife.Graeme Hunter/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

  • The Wife
  • Directed by: Bjorn Runge
  • Written by: Jane Anderson
  • Starring: Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce
  • Classification: 14A
  • 100 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

Glenn Close, who plays the title character, has compared her Swedish director, Bjorn Runge, to Ingmar Bergman, and she’s not wrong. Written by the playwright and screenwriter Jane Anderson, based upon the novel by Meg Wolitzer, The Wife exhales itself with a chilly formality, in both its style and the way its characters relate. But under the cool exterior, much is roiling. We meet Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), a Great American Novelist, in 1992, on the morning he wins the Nobel Prize. Buoying him up is his wife Joan (Close), who long ago subsumed her ambitions to support his. Or as she puts it later, “I am a kingmaker.” Watch Close’s face in these early scenes; imagine what she’s feeling because you will imagine something much different by the end. The Castlemans travel to Oslo to prep for the Nobel ceremony, trailed by Nathaniel (Christian Slater). He wants to be Castleman’s biographer, but smells a different story. Meanwhile, we flash back to the couple’s early days, when Joe was Joan’s professor at Smith College, and she burned for more. Young Joan is played by Annie Stark, Close’s daughter; it’s a good fit, because they have the same voice, the same skin and the same self-containment. When the explosions come, even they are reserved, which may leave some viewers frustrated. But there is a different kind of pleasure in watching ultracivilized people struggle to contain their clammy self-loathing (in Joe’s case) and fury (in Joan’s). And if you think the themes of this story are nestled comfortably in the past, think again.