The world of literature is one I’m not fully versed with. I am a keen reader, but the works I like reading are along the lines of Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling and George RR Martin than the professed masters of literature. What made The Wife intriguing to me though, was the focus on the wife of the author, who is often overshadowed and not really given a second thought. This creates a really interesting premise for a film, with the rave reviews for Glenn Close fully convincing me to watch the film
The film focuses on Joan Castleman, the wife of Joseph Castleman who has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Whilst in Stockholm to receive the prize, resentments that have long been building up in Joan towards Joseph start coming to the surface, exposing the cracks in their relationship and in the nature of Joseph’s books. Now this film is less focused on plot and works best as a character study of Joan Castleman. I’ll get into some more elements when I focus on the performances, but of immediate note is how the film comments on the way women are treated in literature. Throughout the film, we hear and see that the work of women is undervalued, considered a novelty and not worthy of serious discussion. Even with some of the pioneering authors of Western literature being women, their work is still undervalued compared to that of men. This creates some really fascinating moments, especially in flashbacks which, whilst included in the film a bit clumsily, do help expand upon this theme brilliantly. There are also interesting elements raised concerning the way women are treated in general, being treated with a condescending attitude throughout the film. There are numerous moments where the wives of the Nobel laureates are not treated as real people, and rather as props for the men being awarded. This is especially true with the men being treated to lectures and important cultural visits, whilst the activities that the Nobel committee ascribes to women are shopping trips. There’s this condescension throughout the way the wives are treated throughout the film which makes the film a fascinating watch, even if it does get a bit clunky at times.
The performances are what really make the film. Glenn Close as Joan is excellent. She brilliantly shows the image of the loving, supportive wife to the public, but through her body language and her eyes we feel years worth of resentment towards her husband and the whole literature community. There’s this spark of intelligence inside Joan that Close presents and it is frustrating to see how that spark is crushed to make way for being a loving wife and when the resentment reaches its peak, it allows Close to give a tour de force performance at the end of the film. Jonathan Pryce as Jonathan meanwhile is a fascinating character, showing him to be a lying, manipulative figure, clearly in love with the fame and attention he receives, along with being a controlling figure, getting his wife to stop smoking for her health, but paying no heed to his health, constantly gorging on rich foods and sweets. The dynamic that Close and Pryce share is fascinating, aided by Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd as the younger versions of the characters, showing that there is a loving relationship the two share, but it has just been worn down over the years. Christian Slater meanwhile gives an effectively slimy performance as Nathaniel Bone, another author trying to write a biography on Joseph, showing himself to be equal parts sycophantic and manipulative, Max Irons does a good job as David Castleman, showing his desire to be accepted in the eyes of his dad and believing that nothing he does will be good enough to please him, and Elizabeth McGovern gives an important performance for the plot of the film, even if she’s in the film for about 2 minutes, being a glorified cameo.
Overall, The Wife is a fascinating film. There are some clunky moments, mainly relating to the way the flashbacks are edited into the film, but the strong thematic weight of the film and the excellent performances from Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce give the film real power and make it an important watch.
My Rating: 4/5