The Wife

DRAMA; 1hr 40min

STARRING: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons

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From the outside, novelist Joe Castleman (Pryce) and his wife of 40 years, Joan (Close), have a textbook marriage in Daybreak director Björn Runge’s tensile drama. Joe is a literary lion, who, when the film opens in 1992, has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Joan is his self-effacing helpmeet, basking in the great man’s reflected glory.


Cut to Smith College, Massachusetts, in 1958 and Joan (Annie Starke) is a besotted writing student of the young, married Professor Castleman (Harry Lloyd), who condescendingly classifies her work as “quite good.” Clearly, the high-handed Joe has never lacked artistic or sexual confidence. He’s in his preening element when feted by the Nobel cognoscenti in Stockholm, where the couple flies for the prize-giving ceremony. With them is their resentful, upcoming writer son, David (Irons), whose short story his father loftily dismisses in one of Joe’s many cringe-worthy turns.


Ah, but beware the illusion of appearances. “Don’t paint me as a victim,” Joan exhorts Joe’s eagle-eyed, aspiring biographer (Slater). “I’m much more interesting than that.” And so she is, especially as lived by Glenn Close, whose Cheshire cat smile is the smokescreen behind which Joan hides.


Marriage is never more a potential deathtrap than when its balance of power is out of whack. Working from Meg Wolitzer’s terrific 2003 novel, screenwriter Joan Anderson scrupulously intersects past with present to piece together the Castleman puzzle, its injurious dynamic as much a reflection of generational gender disparity as of the two individuals it lays bare. The more her unmasking reveals about who Joan really is and how dearly her wifely role has cost her, the more poignant her self-protective smile becomes.