A superb character study centred on a truly brilliant performance from Glenn Close
Revered author Joseph Castleman (Pryce) is lucky to have his devoted wife Joan (Close) by his side, a fact he’s keen to point out at every opportunity. When the phone rings with the momentous news that he’s won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he asks if she can listen in on the extension. But as she does, her expression is strangely one of distress, not delight.
From inspecting Joe’s beard for crumbs to weathering his infidelities with composure, Joan has done everything to deserve his constant praise; in lavish speeches, he claims he’d be nothing without her. But she insists, “I don’t want to be seen as the long-suffering wife.” There’s a discrepancy here; some truth lurking below the surface, waiting to devastate the status quo of their marriage.
This finely wound screen adaptation of the Meg Wolitzer novel discloses its revelations carefully, in a series of flashbacks and uncomfortable betrayals. Two stories play out: one in 90s Stockholm in the run-up to the Nobel Prize ceremony, another in the 60s, when Joseph and Joan first met. Anchoring the drama, Glenn Close delivers an incredible turn as a woman who has chosen to abandon personal glory in the absolute service of her husband.
As an intimate character study, The Wife is superb. To watch Joan’s inner pain is as unpleasant as it is to observe her husband’s ego trip – the climax of a lifetime unburdened by conscience. But this is also a thought-provoking drama that takes time to really sink in after a first viewing, as does the true brilliance of Close’s performance. This isn’t just another tale of a woman standing in the shadow of a man; to consider Joan a victim would be folly. The Wife is about a woman who has insisted on writing her own story, for better or worse.